7 On Your Side: More than 700 police misconduct complaints filed following NYC protests

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- In 2018, only 19 percent of the 4,745 complaints alleging police misconduct filed in New York City were substantiated by the independent agency tasked with investigating those complaints, according to an annual report.

Generally, complaints include allegations of excessive force, abuse of authority, racial comments and offensive language.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board is comprised of 13 New York City residents appointed by the city council, the mayor and the police commissioner.

The agency's staff is a team of about 200 people according to Chair Fred Davie, about half of whom serve as investigators.

That team is now diving into more than 700 complaints related to the New York City Police Department's response to protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody.

A recent study by the CCRB found the alleged victims in a majority of complaints are generally young black men, 10-18 years old.

"I have tried to do everything in my life to keep from being a quote, unquote statistic," said Bronx Sen. Jamaal Bailey, who acknowledged his own personal experience with police. "It's very easy to some people, 'If you don't go there or if you don't do certain things then you should be okay.' And that's just not the case. It's going to happen to anyone of us at any time."

"Let's deal with it. Let's address it," said CCRB Chair Fred Davie, who recently provided the NYPD with a list of recommendations for improving its interactions with young people based on the CCRB study.

The CCRB has also launched a public service announcement encouraging the public to reach out when they are treated unfairly by police or see someone else being treated unfairly.

Meanwhile, advocates for police reform have long argued the agency, which serves as a civilian's primary resource for justice following police incidents, does not have the power necessary to truly hold police accountable.

"We don't believe it is necessarily an unbiased and independent board like it should be," said Tammie David, an advocate with the NYC Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board. "We need a board that actually has the ability to discipline cops."

Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, which often represents victims of police misconduct, added that police aren't disciplined often enough.

While the CCRB can make recommendations, ultimately the police commissioner has the final say about discipline.

The 2018 CCRB Annual Report indicated the police commissioner chose not to follow the Board's recommendations in nearly two out of three serious cases of misconduct and about half of the time in less serious cases.

"People have to feel and see that their complaints are being taken seriously, and officers are actually held accountable," Wong said.

"Maybe there is more we can do and we can explore to make sure there is closer concurrence by the department with recommended discipline," Davie said.

For years, the outcomes of most CCRB investigations have remained largely sealed because of a state law known as 50A that has kept records of police misconduct a secret, without that officer's consent.

That law offered police protections not extended to other professionals such as doctors and teachers whose disciplinary records have long been public.

Sen. Bailey led the New York state effort to repeal that law this week and on Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a set of police reforms making that repeal of 50A official.

"When we violate the penal code, we are arrested. We are charged with offenses. When officers violate their duty, sometimes we don't know exactly what happens," Bailey said explaining the need for greater transparency through the repeal of 50A and regarding outcomes of CCRB investigations.

Davie also acknowledged the secrecy the agency has been forced to operate under has created challenges.

"I think it undermines public trust in the work. It implies there is something to hide. It implies the CCRB is in the hands of the police department, and, of course, none of that is true," Davie said. "Just because someone makes a complaint and it isn't substantiated that doesn't mean it did not happen. It just means it wasn't an illegal activity or an activity that violated the patrol guide."

Davie added that the CCRB is forced to close complaints when a complainant fails to follow the process through and walks away.

He has proposed creating a complainant witness support unit to help complainants complete the process and to potentially increase the number of substantiated complaints.

He said a lack of funding remains a challenge for some of the initiatives the CCRB would like to develop.

Recently, a court ruling also allowed the CCRB to accept complaints from individuals who witness apparent police misconduct on social media, the news, or elsewhere even if those individuals were not direct witnesses to the incident.

"It's important. It brings us into the 21st century," Davie said.

Davie said he's confident culture is changing and police will face greater accountability as a result of recent protests.

"I think we are at a seriously catalytic moment and as an African American man who is well aware of the history of policing in the nation and who has himself experienced bias policing, I am really pleased," Davie said.
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