The Chief
March 23, 2001


Aid, Don't Resist, CCRB

The police unions last week expressed opposition to Mayor Giuliani's plan to give the Civilian Complaint Review Board the power to prosecute police officers whom its investigators, following up on allegations by civilians, believe have abused their authority.

One reason for the unions' objection - and it may well be a valid one  - is their claim that the city must negotiate with them any change in the disciplinary process for their members. Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch argued that the Giuliani administration has not sought the union's input on how to make the current disciplinary process fairer; negotiating on the move to the CCRB would allow the PBA's concerns in that area to be considered and perhaps addressed.

Other objections by the PBA, the Detectives' Endowment Association and the Captains' Endowment Association are less compelling, however, or at least appear relatively easy to remedy.

Mr. Lynch points out that currently, even with discipline cases handled by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, cops do not have a level playing field with their accusers because civilians face no penalties for lies and false accusations.

He is right that they should have to testify under oath, and that sanctions should be available for false testimony. By the same token, evidence has been produced  - most recently by a mayoral panel chosen to study police corruption  - that the NYPD is all too tolerant of lying by cops in disciplinary cases. If the unions want fines and other penalties imposed against civilians who lie in such cases, they are going to have to live with the prospect of much more serious departmental responses to their members who engage in that practice as well.

CEA President John Driscoll made the claim that inexperienced CCRB investigators currently will routinely accuse cops of making false statements whenever their testimony clashes with the accounts of civilian complainants. But if complainants can be held accountable for their own false statements, that decreases the likelihood of their making bogus charges.

As to the quality of the CCRB investigators, the board for years has suffered from budgetary neglect because Mr. Giuliani opposed its creation and suffered a profound political embarrassment when he was part of the 1992 police rally against going to an all-civilian board that degenerated into a mini-riot. By most  accounts, the quality of CCRB investigations has gradually improved, and that improvement should accelerate if Mr. Giuliani provides added funding to hire more investigators and improve their training.

If the CCRB takes over the prosecution of these cases, it would be in the unions' interest to press for sufficient funding to ensure better training so that investigators don't routinely tack on "false statement" charges to avoid having to make reasoned judgments about the credibility of those involved on both sides.

Ultimately, having a perception that civilian complaints of abuse of authority will be handled thoroughly and fairly is as much in the interest of cops as it is the general public. It hardly benefits the image of police officers for residents to believe that some cops routinely make dubious charges of resisting arrest to inoculate themselves against potential abuse complaints. At the same time, the career criminals and other lawbreakers who account for a significant portion of civilian complaints should be made to pay a price for false accusations against those who arrest them.

There are potential hurdles - from the need to negotiate to the possibility that a City.Charter amendment is needed - to be surmounted before the CCRB is given an increased role. But it seems clear that the current disciplinary process is an inefficient one that takes too long and has been rife with both conflicts between the Department Advocate's Office and the CCRB and accusations that departmental prosecutors are less than objective in dealing with misbehavior by fellow cops.

Reform is needed, and the unions should do what they can to help bring it about while protecting the interests of their members.