We need an Elected Civilian Review Board to Hold Police Accountable, not a Rubber Stamp System.

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The New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) is a farce. Board members are appointed by the mayor, police commissioner, and city council as opposed to being elected by the communities they represent and serve. The boards themselves do not have the power to fire and suspend police, only to make “recommendations.” As a result, the CCRB is nothing more than a rubber stamp of approval for the NYPD. Rather than appointees on a board making only symbolic recommendations, we need elected boards filled with community members, making decisions that are considered final and not open to the police commissioner’s discretion. Only then will the CCRB have a chance at being an actual advocate for the community and to actually hold police accountable. 

According to its website, “the CCRB exists today as a fully independent civil department, staffed with 142 civilian investigators and about a dozen miscellaneous employees.” It is, indeed, outright deceptive for the CCRB to call itself “independent” when the chair is appointed by the mayor and the mayor effectively oversees the NYPD by appointing the police commissioner. How can the CCRB be impartial if both leaders of the CCRB and NYPD are appointed by the mayor? 

My view is the CCRB is simply a valiant effort to control the public relations narrative by the NYPD and city government when we desperately need true police accountability.  What we need is an Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB) where board members are elected by accountable voters and have the power to fire and suspend local police officers, rather than have final decisions be at the mercy of the police commissioner. 

Let me be clear, this is a reform I advocate for as a stepping stone towards abolition. Ultimately we need to completely reimagine policing and develop a deeper understanding of what true safety and community-care looks like. When we do so, we will actively increase the budget on all the social safety nets, education, and alternatives to incarceration; and decrease, defund, and ultimately abolish the NYPD. While on the road to that world, we need meaningful change in the way police department’s are monitored and held accountable to the communities they claim to serve. Otherwise, officers that we know are dangerous remain on our streets. Police are showing us, time and time again, that they are unwilling and unable to police themselves, which was made ever-so evident when the Federal Appeals Court ruled in August that police disciplinary records could be released, and the public got to see for the first time, the sheer disgrace that lies within the data. 

Over 323,000 accusations of misconduct against current and former New York City Police Officers that were submitted to the CCRB were finally made open to the public and published online. These are complaints from 1985 to July 2020 which name almost 81,550 officers investigated for a range of misconduct from the use of profanity and slurs, to beating and choking during arrests. The Civil Liberties Union has exposed, from their analysis of the published documents, that less than 3% of the 323,911 complaints resulted in a penalty for officers, with only 12 of whom had been terminated. This is an utter disgrace and clear proof that police cannot be the ones policing themselves. The worst part of the data release is that most people who have unsavory encounters with police do not even file formal complaints with the CCRB. The lack of reporting relates to a lack of faith in police misconduct complaints being taken seriously which aligns with the data, which show that they haven’t.

It’s not enough for the board to just be elected by the people, it is also vital that all decisions rendered by the ECRB be fully binding. It is further essential that the NYPD is mandated, without any concessions, to hand over any and all evidence pertaining to a case brought to the board. According to ProPublica, the CCRB is often not able to reach conclusions in many cases, in part because the investigators must rely on the NYPD to hand over crucial evidence (i.e. body camera footage). ProPublica has said that the NYPD is often not cooperative with the CCRB and can only address a fraction of the civilian complaints. Allegations of criminal conduct by officers are typically investigated by state or federal prosecutors in conjunction with the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau or the FBI, which completely negates the existence of the CCRB. 

Another issue that must be addressed is the fact that the number of civilian complaints greatly exceeds the board’s capacity to review. The board has less than 200-person staff with a $20 million budget overseeing the 36,000 officers with a $6 billion budget. The recent release shows that the volume of complaints are enormous, and I believe the actual number of violations by NYPD is much higher. It is vital and in the interest of justice that the board be expanded and fully resourced to handle the sheer volume of complaints, and that all complaints are reviewed in a timely manner so that officers who are not fit to police our streets are removed from our communities. 

It is my greatest hope, that once we establish an ECRB with true firing and suspension powers over local police, we can then possibly increase the mission of these boards beyond just monitoring police and taking complaints, to a two-fold mission where these local boards also invest in and support public welfare, community care, and alternatives to policing.

Once again, I believe that the end goal for NYC is abolition. The staggering numbers reported by the CCRB prove the NYPD’s negative impact on communities, especially in low income areas often with a majority population of Black and Brown people. The city needs to divert spending to NYPD and prioritize education, housing and healthcare. In the interim, if we are going to have a Civilian Review Board, it must be given full investigative abilities and real power in order for it to actually hold police accountable. 

My H.A.R.L.E.M platform (under “H” for Holding Police Accountable and Abolition) promises that if I am elected, I will advocate for a Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB) where Board members are elected by accountable voters and where the Board has power to fire and suspend local police officers. Only then will the Board actually be able to hold police accountable. 

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