(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)
The Civilian Complaint Review Board has responded to the Police Benevolent Association’s efforts to kill a ballot referendum that would enhance the agency’s powers. The CCRB began promoting a fact sheet on its website and social media Friday aimed at “correcting misinformation” days after the launch of the PBA’s campaign, calling the union’s communications “myth” as it seeks a “no” vote on ballot question two.
Last week, the PBA began urging its members and allies to vote “no” on the ballot proposal before voters this fall and has a statement of opposition to the measure in the city’s official voter guide, Gotham Gazette first reported. The set of proposals -- question two of five -- would amend the city charter to expand the CCRB’s operational capacity and jurisdiction, while also tweaking how appointments to the board are made and requiring more transparency and communication from the police commissioner.
All five ballot questions contain proposed changes to the charter developed by a multilateral commission tasked with examining the city’s central governing document. Voters can approve or disapprove of each during the October 26-November 3 early voting period or on Election Day, November 5.
Question 2 on the ballot includes four changes that CCRB officials say would improve the administration of its mandate and a fifth that would expand its jurisdiction to allow it to look into allegations of officers suspected of lying while under investigation for misconduct.
The administrative changes would allow the Board to delegate subpoena power to the executive director and guarantee its budget based on a formula tied to the NYPD’s officer headcount. The proposals would also increase the size and appointments to the Board and require the police commissioner to explain to the CCRB when deviating from the agency’s disciplinary recommendations.
Police reform advocates and the CCRB chair, Fred Davie, believe the changes to the city charter amount to a small shift in the powers and performance of the agency but will add layers of accountability to the police department. The CCRB is a civilian agency separate from the NYPD and tasked with investigating civilian-reported complaints of police officer misconduct in a limited set of circumstances: when excessive force or offensive language may have been used, or when police officers are said to have abused their authority or acted discourteously.
In opposing the proposed reforms in Question 2, the PBA, the city’s largest law enforcement union, posted to its website and social media claims that the measure constituted a large-scale “power grab” by a police oversight agency with a history of “anti-police bias.”
Debate over the ballot measure comes just months after the CCRB prosecuted Officer Daniel Pantaleo for misconduct in the arrest that led to Eric Garner’s death on Staten Island in 2014. That departmental trial led to Pantaleo’s dismissal by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill despite the PBA’s assertion that Pantaleo did nothing wrong.
The CCRB fact sheet attempts to illuminate seven of what the page refers to as “myths” promulgated by the PBA as part of its campaign against the ballot measure.
Citing a statement of opposition submitted by the PBA and published in the city’s voter guide, the CCRB takes issue with the police union’s description of Question 2 as giving the CCRB “sweeping new powers.” The fact sheet emphasizes that only one of the charter changes -- the one dealing with suspected police lying -- would constitute a wholly new power. It notes, “The Board already has the authority to subpoena evidence,” and allowing it to delegate that power to the executive director simply makes the process “more efficient.”
The PBA statement in the voter guide, which is published by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Board, also says Question 2 would “drastically” increase the CCRB’s budget. If approved, Question 2 would guarantee the budget large enough to support a CCRB staff size equal to .65 percent of the police department’s headcount of uniformed officers. The fact sheet points out that the current budget ratio this year was only slightly lower, at .59 percent, than what would be guaranteed under the proposed amendment.
“Under this new requirement, we would continue to work closely with the Office of Management and Budget to determine the amount of funding necessary to maintain this level of staffing,” wrote CCRB Executive Director Jonathan Darche in an email to Gotham Gazette.
In its voter guide statement, the PBA asserts the ballot measure would “reduce the authority of the Police Commissioner.”
The CCRB fact sheet refutes that, stating: “The Police Commissioner would maintain the same level of authority over discipline, but the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau would no longer be solely responsible for investigating false official statements made by officers during a CCRB investigation.”
The fact sheet does not mention the proposed change that would require by law the police commissioner to explain in writing any decision to impose a lesser form of discipline than the one recommended by the CCRB. That requirement already exists under a 2012 memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and CCRB, and would be codified in the city charter if Question 2 is passed by voters.
The CCRB also points to posts from the PBA’s Twitter account that accuse the CCRB of harboring “rampant anti-police bias” and calling it “an outrageously dysfunctional agency.” In response the CCRB cites its mandate to conduct “fact-based investigations of police misconduct” and points out that, according to its rules, one of each three-member panel, which make decisions on CCRB cases, must be a Board member designated by the Police Commissioner. On the matter of alleged agency dysfunction, the fact sheet points to upward trends over the last five years in number of cases closed and mediated.
In another tweet, the PBA stated: “By encouraging their clients to file false & frivolous CCRB complaints, [“criminal advocates”] can sidetrack court cases and get guilty gang members, drug dealers & thieves out of jail.” In response to this, the CCRB cites data on the number of unsubstantiated misconduct allegations it has processed.
“Of the allegations closed in 2018, 463, or 8% of total allegations, were unfounded,” the fact sheet states. It adds: “In the past decade, only 52 complainants have ever been found by the Agency to have made repeated unfounded complaints against officers.”
One of the PBA claims appears to refer directly to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, the body that devised the proposed amendments, rather than to the CCRB. In a tweet kicking-off its vote “no” campaign last Monday, the PBA wrote, “Political extremists and cop-haters have been attacking NYC police officers in the streets for years. Now, they're doing it at the ballot box.”
In its fact sheet, the CCRB responds: “The Charter Commission, which ultimately decided what would and wouldn’t be on the ballot this year, was comprised of 15 members of varying backgrounds and degrees of support for police oversight. The Charter Commission Members were appointed by elected officials including the Mayor, Borough Presidents, and City Council Speaker.” City Comptroller Scott Stringer and then-Public Advocate Letitia James also appointed members.
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette