An Elected Board: The way to hold police accountable

NYC COUNCILMEMBER INEZ BARRON | 3/21/2019, midnight
ric Garner, Mohamed Bah, Deborah Danner, Saheed Vassell, John Callado, Malcolm Ferguson, Delrawn Small, Ramarley Graham, Nicholas Heyward Jr., Sean ...
Police confrontations FILE photos

Eric Garner, Mohamed Bah, Deborah Danner, Saheed Vassell, John Callado, Malcolm Ferguson, Delrawn Small, Ramarley Graham, Nicholas Heyward Jr., Sean Bell, Eleanor Bumpurs, Amadou Diallo.

These are just a few of the names of Black and Brown people killed by NYPD officers and whose families have yet to receive justice. They join a much longer list of victims who have suffered abuse, harassment, and mistreatment at the hands of NYPD officers who operate with near impunity.

City officials should not only be ashamed that this violence happens, but also that they have not implemented legislation that prevents it or provides appropriate consequences.

But something can be done. People from all five boroughs have come together to call on the newly convened City Charter Revision Commission to support the creation of an Elected Civilian Review Board and Independent Special Prosecutor that have the power to investigate and discipline police officers. These independent forces are essential to make the NYPD accountable to the people they are sworn to serve and protect. The commission should heed the call of the community and propose this idea as a referendum to voters in November.

Civilians are supposed to have an advocate in the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). But ask many New Yorkers who have gone to the CCRB seeking justice and accountability of police abuse and they’ll tell you it’s basically a dead end.

The CCRB only investigated a third of complaints made in 2017, and substantiated only 5 percent of complaints. Are New Yorkers supposed to believe that 95 percent of civilian complaints are without merit?

This huge gap between complaints and results would be cause enough for concern—but in the end the real problem is that even when the CCRB does investigate, it only makes recommendations to the commissioner, who has ultimate authority to reduce the penalties or throw them out entirely. 

And that in fact, is exactly what happens. Seventy-three percent of CCRB recommendations were watered down or ignored by the NYPD. Since prosecuting cases, not a single officer has been fired as the result of the CCRB. In fact, the strongest discipline for this misconduct, which includes punching, kicking, slamming against objects and firing of guns has been loss of vacation days.

Loss of vacation days is not and will not deter police abuse, and does not create police accountability to the NYC community.

Not only does the CCRB lack essential authority, but it is also completely insulated from public pressure. The police commissioner, the mayor, and the city council appoint the board members. This means that they can be beholden to the interests of those who appointed them rather than directly serving the needs of the people.

When it comes to protecting residents against the transgressions of the largest police force in the country, the least the city can do is create an independent, empowered body to advocate for those who suffer from police misconduct.

This is why New York City needs an Elected Civilian Review Board, where the members are directly elected by neighborhood, which has the power to independently investigate, retrain, discipline, or fire officers engaging in misconduct, and which is continuously accountable to the community through regular meetings and subject to voter recall. 

The NYPD has operated outside of public control long enough. The public pays their salaries, and it is (long) overdue for the public to have a way to hold them accountable when they abuse their power.

If the city of New York wants to do more than say “Black Lives Matter,” then it needs to enact policies that actually protect Black lives. The City Charter Revision Commission must propose the Elected Civil Review Board for referendum in 2019, so that justice in New York City is both of and by the people.

NYC Council Member Inez Barron represent the 42nd District in the New York city council. Her district includes Broad Channel, Brownsville, Canarsie, East Flatbush, East New York, Howard Beach and Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn.