Rights Lawyers Question Cop Review Lag


October 19, 2005, was a busy day at the Civilian Complaint Review Board. On that date one of the three-member panels that decides how to dispose of reports of police misconduct met to vote on several cases. Well, more than several: They voted on 819 cases in a single day—all the cases that had built up over the nearly six months when the panel didn’t meet, and 12 percent of all the cases the Board handled in 2005.

It was quite a day.

Now, the half-year delay and the one big workday have the New York Civil Liberties Union calling for the CCRB to investigate itself.

The delays worry the NYCLU because complaints of police misconduct face a statute of limitations, which requires that (in most instances) the police department file disciplinary charges within 18 months of the alleged wrongdoing.

And doing 800 cases in a day? If the panel worked an eight-hour shift without so much as a potty break, that’s 100 cases an hour, or a case every 40 seconds. “If that’s the amount of time they’re spending on a case, I think that leaves reason to wonder if it’s a meaningful review,” says Christopher Dunn, NYCLU Associate Legal Director. He says CCRB staffers came to the NYCLU with complaints about the backlog.

The CCRB is charged with investigating complaints that cops used excessive force, abused their authority, or were discourteous. It handled more than 6,500 cases in 2005—an increase of 40 percent over 2001. (The increase could be because of the new ease of reporting complaints via 311, rather than because of any jump in bad behavior by cops.) Half of the complaints it receives never even go to a full investigation, and of those that do, only about 10 percent are substantiated. The board’s decisions are advisory: It’s the police commissioner who eventually decides whether and how to discipline any cops for whom the CCRB recommends punishment.

The 13-member CCRB includes people appointed by the mayor, the city council, and the police commissioner. Most cases are decided not by the full board, but by three-member panels. The panels usually meet whenever 175 cases are ready to decide, or about nine to 10 times a year, says CCRB spokesman Andrew Case. Given that the panels must decide 175 cases per meeting, they are given information about the cases—including the recommendation of CCRB staff—ahead of time. At most meetings, only a few cases are discussed at length. The rest are simply voted on, because the panel members did their homework.

But why the six-month delay? “It’s an anomaly,” says Case. “There’s no question there was a longer delay than there should have been.” Case gave no particular reason for the delay other than that the board members, who are volunteers with outside jobs, couldn’t get together. Case also wouldn’t name the board members on the panel in question. But he does say none of the 800 some-odd cases decided on October 19, 2005 ended up hitting the statute of limitations.