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How an unelected review board enables the NYPD's abuse

By staff

A struggle is underway for community control of the NYPD.

New York, NY – Nearly three years after the George Floyd uprising of 2020, New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) has released the findings of its investigations into the New York Police Department’s misconduct during the protests. But rather than addressing the increasing brutality of the cops, the results of the investigations show how an unelected, ineffective review board becomes a tool of the state that harms communities and activists while empowering the police.

From the very beginning, the CCRB’s ability to investigate complaints of police misconduct during the 2020 protests was severely limited by the agency’s jurisdiction, which only allows it to investigate complaints that involve use of force, abuse of authority, and offensive language. As a result, of the over 750 complaints received, the agency was able to investigate only 321.

This basic weakness of the CCRB – which it shares with unelected review boards across the United States – should be alarming. If the agency intended to exercise oversight of the police cannot even hear the majority of our complaints, it enables the police to act against us with impunity.

But the roadblocks to the CCRB’s ability to investigate only worsened from there. For example, one of the first steps in investigating any complaint is to identify the cops involved. However, during the protests, NYPD officers wore black bands to cover their badge numbers. The NYPD claims that cops were told to wear the armbands to honor officers who died from COVID, an obvious bit of irony, given that the NYPD has repeatedly refused to comply with COVID safety regulations like masking and vaccine mandates, even during the height of the pandemic when New York City was the epicenter of cases in the U.S.

This supposed concern for COVID became even more blatantly false when NYPD officers refused to participate in virtual interviews with CCRB investigators throughout 2020. In doing so, individual officers had the support of the immensely powerful police union, the Police Benevolent Association (PBA).

The PBA was able to force the Civilian Complaint Review Board to negotiate with it to get officers to agree to be interviewed and won a deal extremely helpful to the cops: officers could have their union representative present during the interviews and could keep their cameras off, while investigators had to have their cameras on, and in some cases had to rotate their computers to show the cops the inside of their homes and prove that they were alone during the interviews, creating an unequal power dynamic that favored the police.

This example shows why it is crucial that an effective review board have the power to negotiate with police unions from a position of relative strength. Whatever else the PBA does, it is incredibly good at protecting officers at the expense of working class communities, organizers, and others in the labor movement.

Another key part of the CCRB’s investigations was video evidence of the incidents at hand. But once again, the CCRB’s inability and unwillingness to exercise real power over the police grants an obvious advantage to the NYPD. The CCRB is reliant on the NYPD itself to provide body camera footage that is relevant to investigations and the NYPD determines what counts as relevant footage. Unsurprisingly, in the investigations of the 2020 protests, CCRB requests for body camera videos routinely turned up irrelevant and unhelpful footage – if the requests were answered at all.

Beyond official investigations, access to body and dash camera footage is a common demand of the families of those impacted by police violence. For example, the family of Ronald Anthony Smith, a Black man struck and killed by a speeding police officer in Brooklyn in April 2022, spent most of that year demanding the CCRB get the NYPD’s footage of Smith’s death released.

So, an oversight body’s ability to access police footage is incredibly important for both the purposes of investigating police misconduct and for providing emotional closure to victims of police violence. To be effective, an elected oversight board would need to have direct access to police footage – the CCRB’s reliance on the NYPD for footage distracts organizers’ and sidetracks their time and effort toward pressuring the CCRB, while the NYPD retains the real power.

Finally, the CCRB’s lack of funding further hamstrings the agency. As the investigations dragged on into 2021 and 2022, ex-cop Eric Adams was elected as mayor of New York City. Since being elected, Eric Adams has slashed the budgets for several city agencies, including the CCRB, leaving the agency critically understaffed with one in five positions unfilled.

Meanwhile, Adams continues to inflate the already bloated NYPD budget, which has reached over $11 billion. The very officers involved in the complaints the CCRB is supposed to investigate continue to receive raises, with many officers making nearly $200,000 a year, despite the laundry list of allegations against them. It is therefore critical that an elected review board take away the power to set the police budget from cop cronies in city hall so that those resources can be used to fund programs that help rather than harm the community.

“Protests against police brutality bred more instances of police misconduct,” wrote Civilian Complaint Review Board Chair Arva Rice in the introduction to the report, adding “If this misconduct goes unaddressed, it will never be reformed.” Yet, in the final report the CCRB substantiated just 88 complaints related to the 2020 uprising, and the NYPD has imposed discipline in only 42 cases. As an unelected, toothless body, the CCRB is incapable of addressing police misconduct; it is limited in its scope, it is dependent on the NYPD’s cooperation, and it has no ability to enforce its findings. The CCRB creates the illusion of oversight, while in practice empowering the NYPD to act with impunity.

As the NYPD continues to gain even more power to terrorize our communities through Eric Adams’ despicable pro-cop policies, the fight for community control of the police is more important than ever. We need a civilian police accountability council that can address the long legacy of police brutality, and put the power to decide when and how our communities are kept safe in the hands of the people.

#NewYorkNY #PoliceBrutality #CommunityControlOfThePolice #StopPoliceCrimes