September 11, 2017


CCRB Chair’s Stacked Deck

Twenty-five years ago this month, a Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association protest of a Dinkins administration proposal to create an all-civilian Civilian Complaint Review Board turned into a mini-riot in which hundreds of cops, more than a few of whom had shown up for the morning rally drinking beer, tried to storm the doors of City Hall, harassed motorists while blocking traffic coming off the Brooklyn Bridge, and carried signs inspired by a racist radio broadcaster’s characterization of Mayor Dinkins that stated, “Dump the Washroom Attendant.”

Their behavior was so shocking that it’s possible that then-City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., who was known to oppose the CCRB bill until then, might have decided to fast-track it to passage even if some of the bright boys in attendance hadn’t included among their activities stomping on the hoods of some cars in the City Hall parking lot, including his.

That shift in the temperature on the issue added extra spice to the chewing-out that then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was said to have given PBA President Phil Caruso in the aftermath of the raucous behavior, which had also included future Mayor Rudy Giuliani exhorting cops after their worst antics by using a barnyard epithet against the incumbent. Part of Mr. Kelly’s anger was derived from the ugly spectacle of cops giving a whole new meaning to “riot squad,” but he was perhaps equally displeased at the prospect of another oversight body suddenly looming as a reality that could impinge on his disciplinary authority.

Tensions between the board and both the police unions and Police Commissioners—including Mr. Kelly in his later 12-year tenure under Mayor Michael Bloomberg—tended to be constant. There was some easing of the rancor between the CCRB and Police Plaza during the early part of the de Blasio administration, helped by the friendship between Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and CCRB Chair Richard Emery. But an injudicious comment by Mr. Emery last year antagonized the police unions, and coupled with internal problems caused by remarks he made to top staff members, he was forced from his post.

At the end of last month, Maya Wiley, the former Counsel to Mr. de Blasio who eventually succeeded Mr. Emery, left after 14 months as Chair, saying she needed to devote her full energies to an executive post at the New School. That has left the CCRB looking for its third Chair in less than 18 months, and the sense of it being in a turmoil that is quieter than what wracked the PBA a quarter-century ago but no less real was added to by a recent position taken by her interim successor, Deborah Archer.

Ms. Archer, who also served in that role between Mr. Emery’s departure and Ms. Wiley’s being named to replace him, during an Aug. 24 meeting stated that board members should not consider whether someone making a complaint against a cop has a prior criminal record. The Daily News quoted her as saying, “In 95 percent of the cases, it is not relevant to the [accuser’s] credibility. Even in the small percentage of cases where credibility is an issue, I would err on not including it.”

By themselves, these strike us as outrageous statements. The CCRB may not operate under precisely the same standards as a court, where defense lawyers often prevail by successfully impeaching the credibility of a key witness. But the idea that decisions could be made without considering whether someone’s criminal record might indicate a propensity for dishonest behavior that includes lying about cops and deserves to be determined through rigorous examination is ludicrous.

Ms. Archer compounded the impression that she favored a biased atmosphere by stating that she did want police officers’ disciplinary records included in the files that are considered by the board.

Talk about stacking the deck!

We believe that to do a fair, thorough assessment of the credibility of both complainant and officer, rap sheets for both—should they exist—should be included in the proceedings, with the board to decide what, if any, of that information is relevant to the case. There’s no way to plausibly rule one in and not the other.

The nature of their relationship with the CCRB means police-union criticism of its officials and operations should usually be taken with a grain of salt, but comments two union officials made are hard to contest.

Captains Endowment Association President Roy Richter told The New regarding Ms. Archer’s position against disclosing complainants’ prior troubles with the law, “To exclude this information from investigative findings furthers a perception there exists a bias against police by board members.”

And Detectives’ Endowment Association President Mike Palladino said, “A policy to accept certain information while disregarding other information is flawed and designed to provide the CCRB the opportunity to back into a pre-determined conclusion.”

Given that unassailable logic, Mr. de Blasio should seriously reconsider his appointment of Ms. Archer to chair the board, even on an acting basis.