Civilian Complaint Review Board
The Civilian Complaint Review Board is an all-civilian board tasked with investigating complaints about alleged misconduct on the part of the New York Police Department.
Established in its current incarnation in 1993 under the leadership of former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins, the Civilian Complaint Review Board asserts to be the largest civilian oversight agency of its kind within the United States, and investigates thousands of civilian complaints each year.
Even though it has only existed in its current form for a little over a decade, the conception of a board delegated power to investigate complaints about potential police misconduct predates the administration of Robert Wagner, who was responsible for investing the nascent Civilian Complaint Review Board-which was then composed solely of three deputy police commissioners-with new powers in 1955. However, it remained a province of the NYPD, with all investigations being conducted by police officers, and their findings forwarded to the deputy commissioners for recommendation.
In 1965, Mayor John Lindsay would ask former federal judge Lawrence E. Walsh to conduct an investigation into the role of the review board. He would recommend that members of the general public, non-police officers, be given substantial authority in any new civilian complaint review board.
Subsequently, Lindsay designed a search committee tasked with finding civilians fit to serve on this new review board, which was chaired by former Attorney General Herbert Brownell. After much debate-and opposition to the proposal from the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association-Mayor Lindsay decided to appoint four civilians to the reconstituted board.
This prompted opponents of the newly redesigned board to campaign for a city ballot proposal that would have forbidden any direct civilian oversight of uniformed police officers in New York City. The measure was enacted by an overwhelming margin, and the review board once again came under the sole purview of the New York Police Department.
In 1986, the New York City Council enacted a piece of legislation that called for imposing some degree of civilian oversight once again, which led to the appointment of six new members by the mayor-with the advice and consent of the City Council-and six by the police commissioner. The Civilian Complaints Investigative Bureau then began to hire civilians to investigate complaints lodged against the NYPD, but did so with the oversight of police department investigators and employees.
The incident that galvanized some members of the political body politic and certain segments of the public behind the movement for an all-civilian supervisory board occurred on August 6, 1988, where individuals protesting a curfew imposed over Tompkins Square Park were forcibly removed from the premises.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board commissioned an investigation into this incident, and published a report that was extremely critical of NYPD conduct during that confrontation.
Critics of internal police procedures used the Tompkins Square "riots" in order to press for an all-civilian review board.
In 1993 Mayor Dinkins and the New York City Council created the Civilian Complaint Review Board in its current incarnation and invested it with subpoena authority, and gave it the ability to recommend disciplinary measures in cases where police misconduct were verified and substantiated.
Over the years, NYPD officers have come under public scrutiny with allegations of corruption, brutality, excessive use of force, and poor firearm discipline. Individual incidents have tended to receive more publicity; a portion of which have been substantiated while others have not. The Knapp Commission in the 1970s, and the Mollen Commission in 1994 have led to reforms within the NYPD aimed to improve police accountability. However in recent years, likely due to low salaries and declining morale, many more off-duty NYPD officers are being arrested and charged in and outside the city for crimes ranging from drunk driving to homicide.
Due to repeated public outcry over these and many other incidents, specifically, the Tompkins Square Riot of the 1988, and the Crown Heights riot, prompted the creation of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (known commonly by its acronym, the CCRB) in 1993, an independent investigative unit of entirely civilian investigators (with some being former members of the NYPD), who investigate allegations of Force, Discourtesy, Offensive Language and Abuse of Authority made by members of the public against members of the NYPD. Complaints are made directly to the CCRB, through the city's 311 information system, online at nyc.gov/ccrb, or at any Precinct within the city limits. This was the third iteration (after an attempt by Mayor Lindsay and Mayor Koch before to create "mixed" review boards), but was the first to employ an all civilian Board and investigative staff.
The CCRB exits today as a fully independent civil department, staffed with 100 investigators and about a dozen miscellaneous employees. Additionally, three officers from the NYPD's Monitoring and Analysis Section of the Department Advocate's Office work with the CCRB at their office at 100 Church Street. Their role is to provide the Investigators with access to certain restricted NYPD documentation quickly and efficiently without having to wait the lengthy processing period document requests normally take (sometimes outlasting the course of an investigation).
The agency is headed by the 13 board members, who defer day-to-day operational command to an Executive Director (currently Ms. Tracy Catapano-Fox Esq., formally Ms. Joan Thompson.), who is then followed by the First Deputy Executive Director, which was formerly known as the Assistant Deputy Executive Director before that position was transformed into its new form (this later position remains unfilled). The Agency then separates into several divisions, the largest being the Investigative division led by a Deputy Executive Director of Investigations, followed by four Assistant Deputy Executive Directors of Investigations. However, due to budget cuts in 2009, the Deputy Executive Director of Investigations and three of the Assistant Deputy Executive Directors of Investigations were eliminated, leaving the Investigations division under direction of the First Deputy Executive Director and one Assistant Deputy Executive Director of Investigations. The division is then broken down into 8 Investigative Teams, led by an Investigative Manager, along with a Supervising Investigator and an Assistant Supervising Investigator. Initially, there had been 7 Investigative Team Managers, with two teams sharing one manager, but in early 2010, budget cuts have forced the agency to restructure under 6 Investigative Managers. Promotions to Assistant Supervising Investigator and Supervising Investigator are not necessarily granted to Investigators based on tenure or rate or result of investigations. The remaining Investigators fall into Level I and Level II, which simply denotes tenure, experience and pay grade.
The agency is also broken down into an Administrative Division, which includes Human Resources, Information Management Unit and the Case Management Unit (which stores all records of past cases), amongst others, which is led by the Deputy Executive Director of Administration. There are then four other directorships, the Research and Strategic Initiatives Director, Mediation Unit Director, Director of Intergovernmental and Legal Affairs, and the Press Secretary. However, 2009 budget cuts have also caused the Press Secretary and Outreach Unit to be eliminated. There is also an attorney, Mr. Grahram Daw, Esq., who serves as the Agency's legal counsel. These units compliment and serve the Investigations Unit, which acts as the main focal point of the Agency.
Handling a complaint
Each complaint the agency receives is assessed by one of the Investigative Managers on a daily rotating basis, and has its merits checked for proper jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is first assessed by type of allegations. Only allegations that fall under the jurisdiction of the CCRB are investigated by the CCRB. These include Force (whether use of force was justified), Abuse of Authority (which includes racial profiling, unauthorized searches and seizures, inappropriate entry onto property, etc.), Discourtesy (using foul language, acting in a rude and unprofessional manner, flashing rude and offensive gestures, etc.) and Offensive Language, which is more specific than Discourtesy, and includes racial slurs, ethnic slurs, sexist slurs, homophobic slurs and comments of that nature. Jurisdiction is also determined by the officers involved. As many types of officers work in the City of New York (such as the MTA Police, the Port Authority Police and the New York State Police), complainants encounter all of these officers in their day-to-day lives. Only incidents involving members of the NYPD are investigated by the CCRB. Cases that do not fall within the CCRB's jurisdiction are then forwarded to the respective jurisdiction (usually, the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, the Office of the Chief of Department or the respective organization in question, such as another police department).
The cases are then assigned to one of 142 civilian investigators, who are members of one of 8 teams (as of 2006), who then attempts to contact the civilian who initially complained. After initial assignment, there are four conclusive dispositions that result only from a full investigation, and five other "miscellaneous," or inconclusive dispositions. These are Substantiated, Unsubstantiated, Exonerated and Unfounded along with Complainant Uncooperative, Complainant Unavailable, Officers Unidentified, Miscellaneous (i.e. the MOS has retired since the incident occurred) and Mediated, respectively. If contact with the civilian complainant is not achieved after five contact attempts by telephone and two letters by mail, and the contact information is confirmed the case is automatically closed with a disposition of, "Complainant Uncooperative." If the civilian can not be located after a diligent search and/or did not provide accurate or correct contact information, the case is automatically closed as, "Complainant Unavailable." These types of cases are not considered, "full investigations," but are tallied together with the total number of complaints for statistical purposes. It should be noted that while not stated on their web page, all communications with Investigators and both civilians and Members of Service are tape recorded as well as transcribed, to ensure accuracy. Additionally, contrary to popular (and occasionally published belief, see a former CCRB Investigator's misstatements and an Officer's misunderstanding in Vice Magazine's article on the CCRB), all statements made to a CCRB Investigator on the record are considered sworn testimony, and are treated as such legally. All Investigators are Commissioners of Deeds by requirement and may depose anyone within New York City limits.
If the civilian is contacted, a statement is initially taken over the phone by the investigator to further ensure proper jurisdiction and to gain a basic understanding of the broad facts within the complaint. An in-person interview is then scheduled at the CCRB's office at 40 Rector Street, at which point, the investigator meets with the civilian and any witnesses s/he brings with them that were present at the time of the incident and interviews each person separately. The investigator then transcribes the interview, submits a, "case plan," to one of their three supervisors (each team having an Assistant Supervising Investigator, a Supervising Investigator and an Investigative Manager). Once the case plan is approved, the investigator must then begin their investigation, which involves identifying all subject and witness officers involved. If the investigator fails to identify the officers, the case is closed as, "Officers Unidentified." Once the officers are identified, which is done by obtaining a variety of NYPD documents, including SPRINTS/911 tapes to identify which officer(s) responded to the call in question, roll calls from specific commands, to see which officers were working in the area of question during the time of the incident, Command Logs from respective commands, to determine if the incident was logged and which officer logged it, Memo Books of Officers or DD5s of Detectives, to search for possible notes about the incident, along with arrest records, court records, photographs, Complaint Reports, Accident Reports, AIDED reports, Stop, Question and Possibly Frisk Reports (UF-250s), to name only a few.
Once the officer is identified, s/he is then scheduled to give a statement to the investigator and must attend, according to Patrol Guide 211.13. An officer failing to appear or lying to an investigator is, in itself, a violation that could result in severe discipline up to and including suspension and possibly termination. Each officer and their partner at the time, along with any witness officers are interviewed and questioned about the incident by the investigator. This interview is also taped and transcribed, and based upon the officers testimony, further information is obtained by the investigator, including subpoenaed medical records, further department documentation, field canvasses and their resulting information, and so on.
After all civilians and members of service are interviewed and all possible relevant documentation has been received and analyzed, the investigator then collects any relevant case law and begins their, "recommendation," which is their report, averaging about 10-12 pages, on the case in question. The report is broken down into relatively strict (each team has their own, "style," dictated by the Team Managers and Supervisors, and even then, can and often does vary between internal team supervision), template of investigative analysis. The report includes a summary of all complaints made, an explanation of the circumstances of the case, a summation of the statements by the officers and civilians, a credibility assessment of the officers and the civilians (at which point, the investigator is supposed to weigh in criminal history of civilians and CCRB history of officers, as well as inconsistencies between accounts, motivation of the civilian and the overall possibility of an incident occurring), a summation of criminal and CCRB history of the civilians and officers respectively and finally a recommendation for disposition on each complaint, which breaks down into four main categories (beyond the technical variants mentioned in part earlier): Substantiated, meaning the officer committed the act in question and it consisted of misconduct; Unsubstantiated, meaning that there is not a preponderance of evidence either way to determine if the incident occurred as described and/or the incident consisted of misconduct; Exonerated meaning that the incident occurred but did not consist of misconduct, either because the officers actions were justified or did not actually consist of misconduct; Unfounded meaning that the incident did not occur as described and no misconduct occurred.
The recommendations are then reviewed by at least two team level supervisors who then approve or instruct the investigator to "correct" their findings, and upon approval submit the case to the Board, which is composed of 13 members of the NYC community, five of whom are appointed by the mayor, five of whom are appointed by the City Council (with each borough represented), and three appointed by the Police Commissioner. The Board is currently headed by Ernest F. Hart, Esq. Once the Board receives the complaint, either as a full board, or, more likely, as a three member sub-unit, they meet to discuss the case and then vote on the recommendations of the investigator. If the Board agrees with the investigator, the dispositions stand and the case is then closed or forwarded to the Police Commissioner in cases that involve Substantiations. All cases sent to the Police Commissioner come with recommendation of discipline made by the Board, which the Commissioner has the privilege to review and enforce or overrule. In fact, if s/he so chooses, the Commissioner can essentially dismiss the complaint once he receives it. However, it remains on an Officers' record for the length of their career, regardless of the disposition. Public meetings are held to communicate recent statistics and "snapshots," of some of the more straightforward cases are published as examples for the public's understanding and announced at the meeting.
Number of complaints
In 2006, the CCRB received 7,669 complaints from civilians, and closed 7,399 cases, of which 2,680 were full investigations (meaning that the civilian participated, the officer(s) were identified and an investigation was closed after doing a full and thorough investigation). Approximately 6% of the full investigations resulted in a Substantiated disposition. 262 cases were mediated, which is an option for certain complaints provided the officer does not have an extensive CCRB history, there was no arrest made and severe force or abuse of authority were not involved. In mediation, the officer and civilian both voluntarily bypass the investigative process and meet each other one-on-one with a third party mediator to discuss the incident and resolve it. This results in no disciplinary action being taken against the officer and often results in a more satisfied civilian as an outcome.
The CCRB remains the only completely civilian oversight of the New York Police Department in the City, and is complemented by the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau, and the Mayor's Task Force on Police Corruption, each charged with investigating different types of allegations. The CCRB and its acronym FADO (for the first letter of the allegations it investigates) has permeated all ranks of the NYPD and is part of all officers' training at the Police Academy. Additionally, the number of complaints has risen steadily since 2002 as the 311 system was implemented and public awareness of the program grew.
- Gabriel J. Chin ed., New York City Police Corruption Investigation Commissions, 1894-1994 (William S. Hein 1997) ISBN 978-1-57588-211-6
- Walker, Samuel (2005). The New World of Police Accountability. Sage. p. 17.
- NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board - History
- NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board - Agency Structure
- NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board - The Investigative Process
- Viceland - Policing the Police - And You Thought 911 Was a Joke
- NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board - FAQs
- NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board - Case Profiles
- NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board - CCRB Performance
- CCRB Homepage
- New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board Official website.
- Shielded from Justice: New York: Civilian Complaint Review Board Report from Human Rights Watch.
- Civilian Complaint Review Boards
- Edward Silver Dies at 83; Led Police Review Panel
- NYCLU Report: Mission Failure: Civilian Review of Policing in NYC (2007)
- NYPD-Bashers (Too) Welcome Essay critical of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
- Police Practices and Civil Rights in New York City: Executive Summary
- Complaints Spike But Police Punish Fewer Officers
- NYCPR and COPP Advocacy organization assisting victims of "police misconduct."