After the Sean Bell Case, Bloomberg Still Starves the NYPD Watchdog
Adding insult to fatal injury in the wake of the Sean Bell trial, Mayor Mike Bloomberg's administration is slashing its budget for the agency that oversees police behavior—at the very moment when Bloomberg is boasting about an earlier budget increase for the agency.
Last month, on the day when three cops were acquitted in the fatal November 2006 shooting of Bell, the mayor was a mile and a half away from the spot where the unarmed Queens man was gunned down. Cutting the ribbon for the opening of a community job center on Jamaica Avenue, Bloomberg called for calm, assuring those who were upset with the verdict that steps have been taken since the Bell shooting to hold the New York Police Department more accountable.
One of the ways that the NYPD is being better monitored, according to Bloomberg, is that his administration has bolstered the Civilian Review Complaint Board, so that now "complaints are dealt with swiftly and efficiently." The mayor was referring to a $1.4 million budget boost that the agency received in the months after the Bell shooting.
In fact, however, the opposite is true: While Bloomberg was boasting about a better-funded CCRB, his administration has actually slashed the CCRB's budget by $632,210 from the funds dished out last year. On May 19, members of the CCRB testified at a City Council finance hearing to request that the money be restored.
CCRB chairwoman Franklin Stone told the council that the current budget "leaves us with fewer investigators on hand than we have had over the past five years." Over that time, the number of complaints that the agency received increased from 4,616 to 7,559.
The CCRB's executive director, Joan Thompson, painted a grim scenario for the council members: Because of the budget cuts, the agency loses 10 investigators (down to 138), causing a productivity decline that adds 45 cases per month to its open-cases docket. Eight months from now, the agency's open-cases docket will top 4,000—the most since the board was established in 1995. This will eventually cause the average time that it takes to close a case to increase to almost a year. And what are formally called "substantiated" cases of police abuse, which are usually more complicated and take longer to complete, will be pushed right up against—and maybe past—the agency's 18-month statute of limitations, after which the cases must be dismissed.
"Our projections show that within 18 months, the performance indicators for our agency will decline to levels not seen since the early years of the CCRB, when the agency was seen as largely ineffective," Thompson said.
Some might argue this is still the case. As the Voice reported earlier ("Bad Cops Get Tough Talk," Runnin' Scared, April 23–29), Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has the final word on disciplining his police officers, hasn't exactly made punishing overly aggressive cops his top priority. In 2007, the NYPD's Department Advocate's Office, which prosecutes the CCRB cases, took only eight substantiated CCRB cases of police misconduct to departmental trial (compared with 88 in 2004). Five of those resulted in acquittals. At the same time, the NYPD's lawyers dismissed without explanation—except to categorize them as "department unable to prosecute," or DUPs—102 of the 296 substantiated CCRB cases. In 2004, the number of DUPs was 10.
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