December 4, 2012


Say CCRB Cop Trials Give NYPD Head Too Much Say

Authority Still Diluted?

By Mark Toor

Two government-watchdog groups commenting Nov. 28 on proposed rule changes that would allow Civilian Complaint Review Board attorneys to prosecute police officers in the Police Department trial room expressed concerns that the changes give the Police Commissioner too much power.

The two agencies began a pilot program in March allowing CCRB attorneys to handle administrative trials for the NYPD in cases where the CCRB has recommended such trials. The Bloomberg administration is now moving to make the pilot program permanent, a process that a CCRB spokeswoman said would probably take until late January or February.

Commissioner Still Has Last Word

Previously, the trials of cases handled by the CCRB were prosecuted by NYPD lawyers from the Department Advocate’s Office. Police Department employees will still serve as judges, and the Police Commissioner will have absolute authority to accept the penalty or change it, as he has with other department trials.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has objected to the change. PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said last spring, “Our problem with CCRB has always been first, their predisposition that police officers are always wrong, second, their inexperienced investigators who conduct faulty investigations that arrive at improper conclusions, and now those wrong conclusions will be prosecuted at these kangaroo trials.” A PBA spokesman said last week that the statement still represents Mr. Lynch’s thinking.

But Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the change “is a terrific thing to do and I’m happy to see them do it.” Speaking at a public hearing at Brooklyn Borough Hall, he called it an important step on the road to establishing independent oversight of the Police Department.

But he criticized a provision of the draft rules that would allow the Commissioner unilateral authority to block a CCRB prosecution. He objected to another provision he said required that police testimony be accepted as true.

Week’s Wait for Disclosure

He also found fault with public-notice provisions. For example, he said, people who filed complaints should not have to wait seven days after the Police Commissioner is informed to find out what happened in their case.

He said, however, that he was pleased with provisions “requiring the Commissioner to justify any deviation between the penalties supported by the CCRB and levied by the NYPD.” Those explanations should include all cases handled by the CCRB, not just those that go to the trial room, he said.

The second speaker, Alex Camarda, director of public policy and advocacy for Citizens Union, agreed that the provision involving the Commissioner’s justifications on penalties should be expanded.

Mr. Dunn said he believed the new policy would be a useful tool in fine-tuning the department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program. Many of those stopped claim that there is no lawful reason for police to detain them and that officers are often verbally or physically abusive. Civil-liberties groups echo those complaints.

Selectivity Not Recognized

Mr. Camarda also praised the policy of allowing CCRB lawyers to prosecute police administrative cases. He noted that while the CCRB had recommended serious penalties or administrative trials in only 5 percent of the cases it looked at between 2002 and 2010, the NYPD rejected those proposals 92 percent of the time.

Under its charter, the CCRB handles complaints about excessive force, abuse of authority, discourtesy and foul language. Other allegations are handled by the Police Department.