Jailhouse Shock

Or, what happens when an honest citizen calls a cop an asshole

How swift and judicious is the law at monitoring its own? According to a 1998 New York Civil Liberties Union report analyzing the CCRB's own data, the police had yet to act on 528 out of 834 substantiated cases sent to the department between January 1996 and June 1998.

Among the 635 complaints that were acted on in the last two and a half years (many of which were filed before January 1996), no disciplinary action whatsoever was imposed in 447 cases. In other words, in 70 percent of the cases, Police Commissioner Howard Safir rejected the CCRB's finding of police misconduct. Where disciplinary action was taken, it was lax. Nearly 60 percent of these cases were disposed of with "instructions" or "command discipline," which can mean anything from sitting down to review procedures with a supervisor, to receiving a verbal warning, to being docked vacation days.

Furious about this feeble response to police misconduct, more and more New Yorkers are turning to the courts. In 1997, there were 45 percent more lawsuits against the NYPD than there were in 1993. And in the last four years, the city has spent $97 million settling police misconduct lawsuits. (A figure that doesn't include the dollars spent defending cops.)

For Robbins and Desmond Dumesnil, pressing civil charges seems their only avenue for justice. "You think you have rights," says Robbins. "But when you're in the precinct and this guy has a badge and gun and can do what he wants— and he wants to misuse his power— well, there's nothing you can do about it."

Later, if you're determined and savvy enough, you can file a lawsuit. "If anything, what I did was right," says Robbins. "I'm going after this guy."

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