Gotham Gazette Thu, 20 Jun 2019 23:36:52 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) For Total of 20 Potential Reforms, Charter Commission Adds 3 More Proposals to November Ballot crc 2019

(photo: @Charter2019NYC)

Supporters of adding new teeth to investigations of police misconduct thought one of their priorities failed last week, when the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission voted down a proposal that would allow the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to investigate potentially false statements made in the course of its investigations.

At a major hearing last week, the commission voted through 17 proposals to change city elections and governance that will be put into ballot question language and presented for approval or disapproval by voters in November. Four of those measures strengthen the CCRB, which is tasked with investigating complaints against members of the NYPD and currently consists of a board of 13 appointees.

The commission also last week didn't take up or voted down a few proposals included in its staff report that had helped guide its final deliberations. One of those was the measure to propose to voters changing the city charter to allow the CCRB to investigate potential lying during its investigations, opening up the possibility that police officers who lie to the CCRB would be punished for doing so.

But on Tuesday night, the charter commission met again to consider a few final proposals for possible inclusion in what it presents to voters and it reconsidered and passed the additional CCRB measure.

Proposal 7, as it was known, was previously considered at the June 12 meeting, where commissioners discussed and approved the 17 proposals for the November ballot. At Tuesday’s meeting commissioners finalized the language on two approved proposals from the prior meeting, voted through three others, and discussed any proposals not on the previous meeting’s agenda that commissioners sought to raise.

The commission ultimately decided to add three more proposals to the 17 passed at the prior meeting, including the CCRB item, as well as restricting political donations from Conflict of Interest Board members, and extending the period that prohibits elected officials from lobbying to a city government entity. The commission is made up of 15 commissioners, with four appointed by the mayor, four by the City Council, including Chair Gail Benjamin, and one each by the public advocate, comptroller, and five borough presidents.

Change of Heart on Lying to the CCRB
On the added CCRB measure, Commissioner Sateesh Nori, appointed by then-Public Advocate Letitia James, said he thought the commission should reconsider the proposal because of the importance of truth.

“I want us to hold truth and honesty as an ideal for our elected officials, for our judges, for our teachers, and maybe most importantly for our police officers,” Nori said. “This isn’t about being for or against cops. This is about the rule of law, about accountability, and about justice.”

Commissioners who voted yes Tuesday but voted no in the June 12 meeting said talking with supporters of CCRB reform made them reconsider.

Carl Weisbrod, appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio and one of the commissioners who voted against the proposal last week, said “representatives of the CCRB” he spoke to already thought they had the power to investigate false claims. But he said this was one reason he decided to change his vote in support of the proposal.

“I do believe that it’s really important for this commission to affirm what the CCRB considers its power,” he said.

He added, “I think it’s really important for this commission to affirmatively assert that we won’t tolerate, as a society or as a city, false official statements – especially in the times in which we are living.”

Commissioner Lisette Camilo, appointed by de Blasio, said she would stick with her no vote because the measure would not necessarily change the CCRB’s power. “I do not believe that passing this will largely change anything,” she said. “This is more of a symbolic action.”

Other Votes
Commissioners also moved ahead several other measures.

They revisited proposals 8 and 16, both previously discussed and approved in the June 12 meeting, but that approval was contingent on commission staff expanding the respective proposals’ details.

Proposal 8 would create a guaranteed budget for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, requiring a CCRB budget that funds a headcount at the agency no less than 0.71% of the budgeted headcount of uniformed police officers in the NYPD. It would kick in for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins July 2020.

The amended version of the proposal allows that budget to be lower if the Mayor deems it fiscally necessary. In that case, the Mayor must provide detail for the basis of that determination and prove that cutting the CCRB budget is part of an overall plan to address financial downturn.

Similarly, proposal 16, as originally written, would create an independent or guaranteed budget for Borough Presidents and the Public Advocate and require that these respective budgets be set at or above the Fiscal Year 2019 budgets.

The amended proposal requires the budgets to be set or above the Fiscal Year 2020 budgets, adjusted moving forward by the lesser of either inflation or the percentage increase in relation to the city’s total budget. Just like in the case of the CCRB budget, the budgets can be lower if the Mayor deems it fiscally necessary. In that case, the Mayor must provide detail for the basis of that determination and prove that reduction of the Public Advocate and Borough Presidents’ budgets is part of an overall plan to address any financial downturn.

The commission also agreed to prohibit sitting members of the city’s Conflict of Interest Board from making financial contributions to political campaigns. Opponents of this proposal said that it was a violation of board members’ first amendment rights, but it was passed in an effort to reduce conflicts of interest for those tasked with ruling on conflicts of interest by elected and appointed officials.

Voters will also get to weigh in on a proposal that will extend a rule that bans elected officials from lobbying a city political entity from one to two years after leaving city government.

There were other measures raised by commissioners Tuesday that were voted down, including a proposal that would establish a “democracy voucher” system for public campaign finance in the city; a proposal that would give Borough Presidents the power to call joint-agency meetings related to land use; a proposal to clarify the bounds of the Mayor’s budget impoundment power, and one to establish a commission to study the management of the city’s public pension fund.

Although these measures were voted down, the commission agreed to include some language recommending further review of a few of the proposals, like the one calling for a democracy voucher system, in their final staff report. That system, pushed by Commissioner Sal Albanese, appointee of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, would completely overhaul public campaign financing in New York City, eliminating all private money from campaigns and providing each voter with donation vouchers to give to their preferred candidates.

In a Wednesday statement, Adams, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, called the disapproval of democracy vouchers a “short-sighted decision.” He added, “My hope is that democracy vouchers and other transformational ideas around campaign finance reform are put directly to voters in the future, so they can decide for themselves.”

While charter revision commissioners have now approved all of the proposals they plan to put on the November ballot, they will meet for a final time in July to formally adopt the final proposals with ballot language and groupings, and submit the ballot questions to the City Clerk. The commission will then begin months of public education and a push to get voters to approve all of their recommendations for charter change on November 5.

[READ: Charter Commission Approves 17 Proposals for November Ballot]

by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

For Total of 20 Potential Reforms, Charter Commission Adds 3 More Proposals to November Ballot Wed, 19 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Charter Revision Commission Approves 17 Proposals for November Ballot build lc charter2019nyc

(photo: @Charter2019NYC)

After a nine months-long process of public hearings, private meetings, and spirited discussion, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission approved 17 proposals for the November ballot on Wednesday evening.

Commission staff will draft ballot language for these proposals and the commission will take a final vote to approve the proposals on July 24. It will have one more meeting - on Tuesday, June 18 - to discuss adding other proposals to the list.

Potential changes to the city’s central governing laws and constitution -- the city Charter -- the proposals include items like ranked-choice voting, bolstering police oversight, and city budget reform. Most of the proposals chosen by the 15 commissioners were based off the preliminary staff report released in April, which narrowed considerations after a series of commission meetings. Following the report’s release, the commission held a final round of public hearings, one in each borough, as well as private deliberations before Wednesday night’s public vote by the commissioners at City Hall.

Commissioners further placed considerations into five ballot groupings: elections and redistricting, Civilian Complaint Review Board (the NYPD oversight body), governance, finance, and land use. There were 18 total proposals for consideration by the commission. One proposal failed to pass and two passed on the condition that revisions by commission staff be made, which will be verified by the commission soon.

The commission staff will now start to draft ballot language to be submitted to the City Clerk and then Board of Elections, with voters able to approve or disapprove of each grouping through “yes” or “no” votes on the November 5 ballot. But before the commission’s recommendations are finalized and ballot language fully drafted, the commission will have one more public meeting, on June 18, to make any other final decisions.

Here’s what was decided Wednesday night:

Elections and Redistricting
One of the commission’s top issues of interest since its formation was ranked-choice voting, which commissioners voted to approve at Wednesday’s meeting. This voting system is aimed to limit costly run-off elections, which typically see low voter turnout, while also ensuring that winners of crowded races have broader support.

Under the RCV system, voters rank up to five candidates (including write-ins) by order of preference. If a candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, they are the winner. If not, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and the voters who chose that candidate first have their second choice receive their vote. The elimination process is repeated until one candidate reaches the majority threshold. The commission decided that RCV would be suggested to voters for primary and special elections, but not general elections.

Currently, there are only run-offs for citywide positions where one candidate does not hit 40% of the vote, otherwise in all other races whichever candidate receives the most votes wins. This system has led to expensive, low-turnout run-offs in the 2009 and 2013 Democratic primaries for Public Advocate, and it has led to winners of Borough President and CIty Council races who enter office having secured well below a majority of the vote.

Ahead of the commission’s meeting, 27 elected officials – including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer – and 14 organizations released a statement urging the commission to put ranked-choice voting on the ballot.

"I urge the Charter Revision Commission to include ranked choice voting for all of our elections in its recommendations for the November ballot. Ranked choice voting has proven effective elsewhere and would make our city's elections more fair and representative of the true will of the people," Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said in the statement. "Our current winner-takes-all system is flawed and in need of reforms. We should not allow candidates to win races with only a small plurality of the electorate, and we should do all that we can to avoid ridiculously expensive, low turnout run-offs. Allowing voters to rank their preferences on the ballot will ensure that the winner is actually a consensus choice."

Although most charter commissioners agreed to move ahead with ranked-choice voting, some felt that because the proposal would only apply to primary and special elections, it wouldn’t accomplish enough. Commissioner Stephen Faila proposed an amendment that would include general elections, but it didn’t pass.

There were also those in opposition to the underlying proposal, like commissioner Merryl Tisch, who called RVF a well-intentioned experiment, but said she could not support it because it could allow politicians to have unclear positions for the sake of garnering more votes.

“If we enacted such a system it could well give candidates an incentive not to take clear issue positions, preferring to play to the audience for being everyone’s second choice, by offending as few people as possible, to rack up second and third choice votes,” Tisch said.

The commission also approved to extend the time period from the announcement of a special election and when it is held. Currently, that time period is 45 days (or 60 days for a mayoral special election). The approved proposal changes that to 90 days.

The final approved elections and redistricting ballot proposal amends the timing for establishing Council district boundaries to ensure that there’s sufficient time after redistricting and before the start of the ballot petitioning period for the next election.

Civilian Complaint Review Board
The commission also approved proposals reforming the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which investigates the public’s complaints against New York City police officers.

One proposed change is to how CCRB members are appointed. Currently the mayor appoints all 13 members, but the proposal expands the board to 15 members. Under this expansion, one of the members would be appointed by the Public Advocate and the other would be jointly appointed by the Mayor and the City Council Speaker. The City Council would also be granted power to directly appoint people to the board, currently the Council can only designate members.  (The commission had decided not to move ahead with the idea of a popularly-elected CCRB, as was urged by some advocates.)

The commission also voted to recommend a requirement that the Police Commissioner provide an explanation in all cases where the commissioner intends to depart from the board’s disciplinary recommendations and that the CCRB be allowed to delegate its subpoena power to the CCRB Executive Director.

There was debate over another CCRB consideration, which would require that the CCRB budget be no less than 0.3% of the NYPD’s multi-billion-dollar budget. Commissioners decided to have staff rework some of the proposal’s language and discuss it further at the June 18 meeting.

The only proposal that did not pass was the one regarding false official statements in CCRB matters. It allows the CCRB to investigate and recommend discipline against a police officer at the subject of a CCRB complaint, if said officer makes a false material statement within the course of that investigation.

The commission approved proposing to voters the creation of a mandatory “Rainy Day Fund” for city budgeting, where the city government can put surplus revenues when the economy is booming and draw down savings when in a crisis or significant downturn.

The idea behind the fund, strongly recommended by entities like the nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission, is that in cases of major economic hardship, service cuts and tax increases are avoided. This proposal would be reliant on the expiration, repeal, or amendment of the State Financial Emergency Act, which, since the city’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s, is a state law governing city budgeting practices.

Voters would approve the creation of a Rainy Day Fund with certain specific criteria, but it would only be created if state law was amended to allow it.

Charter Commissioner Stephen Fiala, who said this proposal was his top priority on the commission, said it is important because it protects lower- and middle-class people, as they are typically impacted the most by city service cuts and tax increases.

“If there was nothing else that we did, this is the most important thing we will have done. And it isn’t about numbers...,” said Fiala, who was appointed to the commission by Staten Island Borough President James Oddo. “This is really about the poorest of the poor and the middle class because they are the ones who have – from the time we started having recessions until now – they’re the ones who always suffer.”

“By putting a Rainy Day Fund on the ballot, the charter commission would provide New Yorkers with an important opportunity to strengthen one of the few flaws in the city’s budgeting processes and would create significant momentum for the changes needed in state law,” Andrew Rein, president of Citizens Budget Commission, wrote in a June 10 op-ed at Gotham Gazette.

The commission also approved the creation of a mechanism for the Council and the Mayor to jointly establish a structure for budget units of appropriation outside of the budgetary season and a requirement for budget modification timing that requires periodic financial plan updates for budget modifications. These modifications would be filed with the Council within 30 days of the plan update.

Voters will also see a proposal on the appointment of the city’s Corporation Counsel, or top lawyer, which provides for the counsel to be nominated by the mayor with City Council approval.

Another proposal would restructure the Conflicts of Interest Board. COIB members are currently appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council. The restructure provides for two mayoral appointees, one Comptroller appointee, and one Public Advocate appointee.

The commission also approved a proposal to require the citywide director of the minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) program report directly to the mayor and that this director be supported by a mayoral office of MWBE.

Although the proposal passed, some commissioners noted that this still doesn’t accomplish enough, and a chief diversity officer for the city would be the ideal solution.

“Enshrining an office of minority- and women-owned businesses in the city’s charter is really only a small step forward that does not match the scale of the problem that we are facing,” Commissioner Allison Hirsh, appointed by Comptroller Scott Stringer, said. “While we must support every effort to improve diversity in our city, by merely enshrining an existing initiative into law, the office of M/WBEs is ultimately a little disappointing in terms of what we could have accomplished on this commission.” Stringer has made the push for a citywide chief diversity officer and a CDO at each city agency his top priority in charter revision, but the commission is not heading in that direction.

Land Use
The commission also voted on suggesting reforms to land use procedures, specifically by modestly increasing community involvement. One recommendation moving ahead is to provide more time and earlier opportunity for Community Boards and Borough Presidents to review and comment on applications before the start of the Uniform Land Use Procedure (ULURP), the process that determines if the city will allow a particular land use change.

The commission will suggest to voters an extension of the ULURP pre-certification notice period and require project summaries be transmitted to affected Borough Presidents and Community Boards. There was an amendment that would extend this period from the originally proposed 30 additional days to 60 days, but commission members said this would extend an already lengthy process too much further.

“I think there are places and ways in which ULURP could use some fresh air on all sides, we all know that community boards are not all equal; they do not all use their time periods well, but to establish a pre-ULURP ULURP just seems to me to avoid the question of ‘what’s wrong with ULURP,’” said commission Chair Gail Benjamin, the former head of the City Council’s land use division and appointee to the commission of Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Although the amendment failed, the underlying proposal passed. Commissioners also approved  to give community boards 90 days to review ULURP applications, rather than the current 60 days, before they issue a non-binding opinion.

June 18 meeting
Commissioners will meet again on June 18 to finalize two proposals (unless the two are finalized before the 18th) and any proposals not outlined at Wednesday’s meeting, which focused on moving ahead, or not, with the recommendations in the preliminary staff report.

A decision on two proposals is pending staff revisions: one on the guaranteed CCRB budget and one on independent or guaranteed budgets for Borough Presidents and the Public Advocate. The CCRB budget proposal requires that the CCRB budget be no less than 0.3% of the NYPD budget. The proposal for guaranteed budgets for Borough Presidents and the Public Advocate requires that these budgets be above their respective Fiscal Year 2019 budgets.

Commissioners voted Wednesday that there should be a guaranteed budget for each of the CCRB, Borough Presidents, and the Public Advocate, but on June 18 they will vote on details of those budget requirements. The commissioners may come to a consensus prior to the June 18 meeting and then a vote won’t be necessary.

by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Charter Revision Commission Approves 17 Proposals for November Ballot Thu, 13 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Diaz Jr. Submits Charter Revision Testimony Focused on Land Use and Police Accountability ruben bx brf

(photo: office of Ruben Diaz Jr.)

One week after the 2019 Charter Revision Commission held its final hearing in the Bronx and one day after its last borough hearing, but before the commission decides what proposals it will put before voters this fall, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. released his testimony to the commission on Wednesday.

While the 15-member charter commission, on which Diaz Jr. has one appointee, is considering a wide range of possible changes to city governance and elections, Diaz Jr. focused his written testimony on two crucial measures: land use and planning, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which performs police oversight. He also touched on budgeting for the borough president offices. His testimony is in large part a reaction to the charter commission’s preliminary staff report, which helped narrow the commission’s likely focus areas as it headed into the now-completed final round of borough hearings and more deliberations.

Diaz Jr. is calling for more community input in land use matters, but not sweeping reforms to the process, and for more power for the CCRB, though he did not come out in favor of a popularly-elected CCRB (its members are currently appointed by several public officials). The CCRB was the focus of significant attention during the Bronx hearing of the charter commission held May 7, at which Diaz Jr. did not appear. And Diaz Jr. wants the charter to codify protections for budget allocations to the borough president offices.

While Diaz Jr. agrees with parts of the commission’s preliminary report on land use, he called the city’s current Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) process “insufficient.” He called for more comprehensive reviews of potential displacement from a proposed change in land use rules or a development project. Currently, the CEQR rules do not trigger a socioeconomic impact review until 500 residents or 100 jobs are at likely risk of displacement. Diaz Jr. called for a “lower threshold of estimated residential or commercial displacements,” but did not specify a number.

Diaz Jr. also recommended that the Charter Revision Commission “explore” a requirement for the chair of the City Planning Commission to need a two-thirds approval from the rest of the planning commission in order to be elected -- the chair is currently appointed by the mayor, while members of the commission are appointed by the mayor, public advocate, and borough presidents, and approved by the City Council. “This would give the borough presidents and public advocate a greater voice in the ULURP process, and give the chair greater accountability to all members of the City Planning Commission,” Diaz Jr.’s testimony reads.

He also suggested that the City Planning Commission either vote on certifying ULURP applications “out of the commission,” or that the relevant City Planning Commission Borough Commissioner should reserve the right to place a 30-day hold on certification in cases where they feel “additional consultation” with borough-level officials are needed.

Harkening to the contention over the proposal for a new jail in each of the four boroughs other than Staten Island that will in part make shuttering the Rikers Island jails possible, Diaz Jr. further suggested that when there’s a multi-site proposal like the jail plan, the charter “dictate unequivocally that each borough’s site must undergo a separate ULURP process, to avoid issues such as minimization of community input that is occurring in the jail siting process currently underway.”

Diaz Jr. has repeatedly slammed the process for grouping all four jail openings together, rather than allowing each borough separate input through the ULURP process, where the borough presidents and community boards have advisory input. Diaz Jr.’s charter commission appointee, former City Council Member Jimmy Vacca, advocated for the same idea in last week’s Bronx charter hearing.

Notably, Diaz Jr. did not call for major changes to the land use process, such as giving the borough president the power to effectively veto or restart negotiations on a development proposal. Though there appears to be a lot of discontent across the city about how land use decisions are made and a top-down approach from mayoral administrations, there has not been an apparent appetite among elected officials for sweeping alterations to ULURP.

Like land use, police accountability is a perpetually controversial topic in New York City, brought into particularly sharp relief this month given the NYPD administrative trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s 2014 death.

In his charter testimony, Diaz Jr. also wrote in support of the CCRB provisions included in the commission’s preliminary staff report, which advocate for increased transparency in the process, particularly in terms of the NYPD commissioner being required to explain when he or she differs with a CCRB recommendation in holding an officer accountable.

Diaz Jr.’s testimony expresses his support for guaranteed funding for the CCRB, at 1% of the annual NYPD budget, and creating a “non-binding disciplinary matrix to make discipline for violations clearer and more consistent.”

“This transparency will help restore faith in the good women and men of the NYPD who work so hard to keep us safe,” he wrote. Diaz Jr., who is overtly readying his run for mayor in the 2021 election, is among those attempting to toe the line between community activists and police reformers on one hand and a working relationship with the NYPD and its members’ labor unions on the other. It’s a balancing act that has at times confounded Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others.

Calling borough presidents' offices "conveners, constituent services providers, policy hubs, planning departments, and watchdog agencies" Diaz Jr. also called on the charter commission to protect the budgets of those offices. "Borough presidents’ budgets ought to be set with the current total allocation as a floor that shall not be decreased either in total for all borough presidents’ offices or for any individual borough president’s office. Increases should factor in any increases to the Department of City Planning’s Budget," he wrote in his testimony. Diaz Jr. said the "only exception" to that requirement would be in years when the city's financial picture includes a reduction in the expense budget.

This testimony is the first that Diaz Jr. has submitted to the charter revision commission. When asked on the Max & Murphy podcast in late March if he would submit testimony, he said, “Absolutely. I’m not here for window dressing.”

According to a Gotham Gazette review of Diaz Jr.'s recent schedules, he held an April 1 meeting with Vacca, his commission appointee.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo both released testimony during early stages of the charter revision commission process, in September of 2018. Brewer also testified at the Manhattan borough hearing last week. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz have not submitted testimony to the commission.

Diaz Jr. Submits Charter Revision Testimony Focused on Land Use and Police Accountability Wed, 15 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Police Accountability pol acc

(photo: @Charter2019NYC)

The 2019 Charter Revision Commission met on Thursday evening to discuss police accountability reforms before an impassioned crowd filled with activists. Local advocates along with some politicians have long called for increased transparency and accountability in policing, particularly in recent years following the 2014 death of Eric Garner at the hands of NYPD officers on Staten Island and the slow, somewhat secretive process by which any accountability has been handled for that incident and others like it over the years.

The commission heard testimony from experts from representatives of the Civilian Complaints and Review Board (CCRB), NYPD, Legal Aid Society, and a variety of police reform advocacy groups.

It was the second charter revision commission hearing this year featuring “expert” panels on key areas that the commission is considering for reform recommendations. The commission, which has narrowed its focus areas to four big buckets, will make its recommendations this summer and its proposals for changes to the city’s charter, its foundational governing document, will go before voters in November.

The four focus areas are elections, which the commission met to discuss the week prior, governance, finance, and land use. Thursday’s meeting was the first to discuss governance, which includes police accountability.

The hearing occurred one day after the Legal Aid Society released a database of more than 2,300 cases of police misconduct involving almost 3,900 police officers between 2015 and 2018 (police unions say the database contains false and trivial allegations).

The CCRB is currently the primary mode of formal police accountability in New York City. The civilian board, members of which are appointed by various officials and groups, investigates citizen complaints of police misconduct in four arenas: force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language. The board then recommends a certain level of discipline to the police commissioner, who holds the ultimate authority to determine and enforce penalties for misconduct.

The CCRB is a 13-member body: the City Council appoints one member per borough, the police commissioner names three members with experience in law enforcement, and the mayor installs five members and names the chair.

The hearing was divided into three panels, though unlike the election reform hearing, which was split thematically, the police accountability panelists discussed similar issues and recommended similar amendments to the charter to address the topic at hand.

The first panel included representatives from Citizens Union, a government reform group focused on transparency and accountability, Communities United for Police Reform, an activist organization, NYC Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board, and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The second panel hosted a criminal justice professor from Borough of Manhattan Community College, an attorney from the Legal Aid Society, president of the Boston-based National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, and the Independent Monitor of the Denver Police Department.

And to conclude the hearing, the third panel was composed of the executive director of the CCRB, the NYPD legislative affairs director, and an NYPD Deputy Commissioner.

All panelists and commissioners broadly agreed on the importance not only of accountability and transparency in the NYPD, but also on the maintenance of public perception of these tenets. Ideas on how to achieve those goals––or thoughts on whether New York City has already achieved them––differed.

With exception from the two NYPD representatives, a consensus emerged among most panelists around amending the charter to increase the CCRB’s legal strength and to compel the NYPD to release public rationale when the commissioner’s disciplinary decisions divert from the CCRB recommendation. Many experts also advocated increasing CCRB’s budget in tandem with that of the NYPD.

Police commissioners typically deviate from the CCRB’s discipline recommendations: according to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, the police commissioner implemented the board’s recommendations in 26 percent of cases in the first half of 2018 and in 37 percent of cases in the first half of 2017. Deputy Commissioner Kevin Robinson of the NYPD, however, asserted that the concurrency rate––or the rate at which the NYPD acts upon the CCRB’s recommendation––has risen since this dip. The board agreed that the NYPD will often enforce some discipline at the CCRB’s recommendation, but it rarely aligns with the actual suggested measure of discipline.

Executive director of the CCRB Jonathan Darche proposed four amendments to the charter: codification of CCRB’s administrative prosecution unit, allocation of subpoena power to the board’s “highest ranking staff,” a stronger impetus for NYPD compliance with the CCRB’s requests for information and documents, and to raise the CCRB budget to one percent of the NYPD budget.

“While the department will continue to encourage a healthy working relationship that goes beyond the strict bounds of the charter,” said Oleg Chernyavsky, executive director of the NYPD legislative affairs unit, “we do not support such an expansion of the CCRB’s authority.” Darche encouraged the commission to consider the urgency of collecting evidence for misconduct investigations that rely on city resources like street cameras, where footage is routinely taped over.

The NYPD commended its own steps toward increased transparency. Chernyavsky said that last year Police Commissioner James O’Neill gathered an external panel of criminal justice experts to assess the department’s internal discipline process, ultimately finding “no evidence of a lack of fairness.” The department still decided to act on a number of reforms suggested by the panel, like deliberation over the adoption of a standardized disciplinary matrix, according to Chernyavsky.

Some experts suggested amendments to bolster CCRB’s oversight power. Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform, proposed allocating disciplinary enforcement capacity to CCRB, including potential prosecutorial power. She also advocated fully publicizing all of the NYPD budget, enabling oversight of issues like surveillance technology procurement. Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel of the New York Civil Liberties Union, supported many similar provisions, including a charter amendment requiring City Council oversight of technology acquisition and decentralizing the disciplinary power of the police commissioner.

“The biggest problem has always been in CCRB’s lack of authority,” said Sisitzky.

Charter Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, former director of the City Council land use division and appointed as chair by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, along with Commissioner Alison Hirsh, vice president of 32BJ SEIU and appointed by Comptroller Scott Stringer, inquired about the disciplinary procedure for “peace officers.” The experts generally agreed that the city lacks an adequate oversight system for these 5,000 officers, but Darche said that the CCRB lacks the resources to oversee peace officers.

The hearing’s most polarizing issue came from Pamela Monroe of the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board. Monroe asserted that the “CCRB has failed,” and instead proposed a board of 21 elected officials “responsible to their district and answerable to New Yorkers.” The members would serve four-year terms that coincide with mayoral and City Council elections, she explained. The campaign has not yet determined if candidates should run along party lines or in nonpartisan elections. Monroe’s testimony drew fervent applause from the audience, which was largely composed of the campaign’s supporters.

Commissioner Rev. Clinton Miller, who was appointed by Speaker Johnson, asked for details, and Hirsh and several other commissioners inquired about the necessity for elected officials on the CCRB and expressed concern over how the NYPD’s political power could sway these elections in the department’s favor and potentially prevent new accountability reforms. “New Yorkers deserve to have the people represent them,” Monroe answered. Local elections are a tenet of democracy, she explained, and espoused her campaign’s belief that the current CCRB is reflective only of the politicians who appoint them, rather than the city at large.

While Brian Corr of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, reinforced Hirsh’s concerns over how police unions may wield their political clout in an election, most other experts declined to take a position on the issue as members of their organizations were still deliberating the idea.

Commissioner Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and appointed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, challenged many of the suggested reforms throughout the hearing. Albanese celebrated CCRB’s progress from when NYPD officers served on the board, which changed to its current all-civilian structure 26 years ago under the David Dinkins mayoral administration. He also extolled more recent reforms, including the installations of an inspector general and a federal monitor within the NYPD roughly five years ago.

“Are these things not working?” Albanese asked, to laughs from both the audience and the panel.

Corr later told Albanese that large cities need a body independent of the police department with checks on its power from the mayor and City Council, empaneled with “people who are trained in civic oversight, who understand investigations and can also look at systemic issues.”

Commissioner Stephen Fiala, the Richmond county clerk and appointed by Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, asked several experts to detail their complaints with the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding that broadened oversight of the NYPD.

Many experts lamented the lack of any measure compelling the NYPD to provide a public rationale in instances of non-concurrency between the department and the CCRB on disciplinary measures, despite provisions in the 2012 MOU that suggested the NYPD would disclose these explanations. Ethan Geringer-Sameth explained that Citizens Union has had to wield legal action to unveil certain NYPD decisions. “The fact that it’s not public now,” Kang said “really shows how the NYPD has been allowed to make their own rules.”

Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, a Mayor Bill de Blasio appointee, asked the CCRB and NYPD representatives why the MOU “shouldn’t be codified, given the fact that it has stood the test of time.” Darche called the memorandum a “template for charter revision,” while Chernyavsky said that the MOU maintained police commissioner power because those who occupy that position worked through all levels of the police ranks, giving them important perspective on issues of police misconduct.

Issues of police mistrust within communities of color were debated during the second panel. Albanese asserted that polling shows people of color generally trust police officers, while Manhattan Community College professor Liza Chowdhury said she had not heard of these polls and spoke of historical over-policing in neighborhoods of color, drawing enthusiasm from demonstrators in the crowd who carried photographs of African-American men who have been killed by NYPD officers. Fiala, meanwhile, agreed the NYPD must improve its relationship with civilians, but blamed a lack of trust on a general trend toward suspicion of institutions.

Cynthia Conti-Cook of the Legal Aid Society recommended implementing a conflict counselor position within the CCRB to serve as independent legal representation for clients, rather than the standard set by New York City Law Department’s interpretation of state Civil Rights Law 50-a, which she deemed “the crux of the problem.” The state law, she explained, requires attorneys advancing complaints against police misconduct to delineate why they believe misconduct exists, but blocks their access to disciplinary documents from the NYPD. Defense attorneys, Conti-Cook said, are “arguing in the darkness.”

Chernyavsky advocated for amendments to 50-a that would permit the release of information in the public interest––including officer names, trial transcripts, decisions and disciplinary outcomes––while maintaining safeguards “aimed at protecting officers against harassment.”

“Commissioner O’Neill,” Chernyavsky said, “has attempted to be more transparent within the bounds of the existing law,” noting the decision to release body camera footage and CompStat data. “We can have both. We don’t need to throw away the safeguard that are afforded to our officers at the cost of transparency.”

Many experts and commissioners shared a desire to see a police force that demographically better reflects the communities it serves (which has been the trend in the NYPD), and the need to confront trauma both in neighborhoods that have experienced police brutality and within the police force.

Representatives from the NYPD did not propose any charter amendments.

Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Police Accountability Sun, 10 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
NYPD Watchdog Seeks Sharper Teeth Through Charter Revision ccrb exec director twiter2

CCRB reps, including Jonathan Darche, middle (photo: @CCRB_NYC)

When the NYPD decided earlier this month to move ahead with its departmental trial against two officers involved in the 2014 death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, it tasked the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent watchdog agency, with prosecuting the charges. But that prosecutorial authority has yet to be codified into the City Charter, the city’s central governing document, a change that CCRB officials are seeking through Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission.

In testimony last week before the charter revision commission, which will propose charter amendments to voters on the November Election Day ballot, the CCRB’s executive director, Jonathan Darche, urged commission members to consider expanding the board’s powers and solidifying its place in the city’s constitution.

A 13-member body composed entirely of civilians, the CCRB investigates, and prosecutes, allegations of police misconduct, including complaints about use of force and abuse of power. The current iteration of the agency dates back to 1993 when the body was given subpoena power and the ability to make disciplinary recommendations after substantiating complaints against police officers.

It was the CCRB last year that substantiated the complaints against Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who held Eric Garner in a banned chokehold that led to his death. The CCRB recommended the highest possible penalty it can against Pantaleo -- charges and specifications, which are then prosecuted by CCRB lawyers in an administrative trial. Ultimately, the CCRB issues its recommendations to the police commissioner, who makes the final determination on a disciplinary proceeding.

With the mayor’s charter revision commission close to concluding its work and announcing its proposals in early September, Darche testified at one of the commission’s hearings across the boroughs, on July 26 in Queens. Darche’s testimony follows on a letter sent by the CCRB to the charter commission in May, which enumerated the four proposed changes, which include codifying the Board’s Administrative Prosecution Unit (APU), which is handling the Pantaleo trial; enabling the board to give subpoena signatory power to the agency’s highest ranking staff; clarifying and expanding the NYPD’s duty to cooperate with CCRB requests for documentation and data; and amending the agency’s budget to equal one percent of the NYPD’s budget.

Eric Phillips, a spokesperson for the mayor, declined to comment for this article. The NYPD did not respond to emails seeking comment. When Mayor de Blasio announced the charter revision commission in February he said he wanted it to focus on election and campaign finance reform, but it has heard testimony on a wide range of matters and is considering, as is its right, focus areas beyond the mayoral mandate.

The most significant proposal put forward by the CCRB relates to the Administrative Prosecution Unit, which was created in 2012 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the NYPD. As is the case with Pantaleo, the APU handles prosecutions in cases with the strongest disciplinary recommendation. According to the CCRB, the unit has prosecuted officers in 367 trials since its creation. 

“As evidenced by the APU’s prosecution in the Garner case, the APU is a vital part of the disciplinary process for officers who commit misconduct,” Darche said during his testimony. “Amending the City Charter to codify the APU will ensure that this independent and effective tool for civilian oversight will continue.”

Carolyn Martinez-Class, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a broad coalition of police reform advocates, welcomed the CCRB recommendations as “important initial proposals to improve police accountability and transparency generally,” in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In order to be effective, the proposed change to codify the Administrative Prosecution Unit must also codify the original MOU's intent to make transparent instances when the Police Commissioner disagrees with CCRB recommendations so that those instances and rationale are made public as originally intended,” she added.

Though the commission members asked no questions of Darche at the hearing in Queens, and police oversight has not been one of the main issues the commission is exploring, Darche will have another opportunity to push those proposals.

The mayor’s commission is expected to put out its final report within weeks and will propose ballot measures for the November general election, but the New York City Council has created a separate charter revision commission, which convened for the first time earlier this month. That second commission -- which includes commissioners appointed by the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, City Council, and borough presidents -- is working with a longer timeline, aiming to put its proposals on the ballot in November 2019, allowing it ample time for a more holistic review of the charter.

City Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the public safety committee, said in a statement that he was “absolutely in support” of the CCRB’s proposals to the charter commission. “Increased transparency and accountability are essential to improving police-community relations and the CCRB should absolutely have a stronger presence in that process moving forward,” he said.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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NYPD Watchdog Seeks Sharper Teeth Through Charter Revision Mon, 30 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council to Examine NYPD Oversight Board maya wiley mayor de blasio appointment

CCRB Chair Maya Wiley & Mayor de Blasio in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, a key provider of oversight of police conduct in New York City will be subject to oversight itself at a Friday hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. It will be the first of its kind during the current administration wherein the CCRB is evaluated by the Council outside of the annual budget process. The hearing comes amid controversy over NYPD transparency with regard to officer discipline records, alongside the perpetual scrutiny of policing in the city, and three months after Mayor Bill de Blasio named a new CCRB chair, Maya Wiley, who is expected to testify.

The CCRB is an independent agency of civilians, as the name suggests, tasked with investigating complaints against police officers and recommending disciplinary action to the commissioner of the police department. It’s composed of 13 members - one each from the five boroughs, chosen by the City Council; five members, including the chair, chosen by the mayor; and three members selected by the police commissioner. Each member serves a three-year term and can be reappointed to the position.

Wiley, the current chair, was recently appointed after leaving her post as counsel to de Blasio in July. Her appointment was met with skepticism from certain quarters, with Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch calling it a “politically-motivated” tactic used by the administration that undercut the agency’s independence. Wiley’s predecessor, Richard Emery, who resigned amid scandal, was also seen by some as a political appointment and criticized for his close relationship with former police commissioner Bill Bratton.

De Blasio has had a contentious relationship with Lynch and the PBA, which is locked in negotiations with the city as one of a small number of municipal unions not under contract. Still, de Blasio and Bratton instituted new training protocols for police officers and while crime has continued to decline, so have arrests and complaints to the CCRB.

Friday’s hearing will examine the current CCRB’s overall functioning, looking at its case processing times, procedures that have been put in place under the current administration and outreach efforts made by the board to communities on the ground. Undoubtedly, it will touch upon larger issues as well, coming at a time when the administration is besieged by criticism over its refusal to disclose police officer disciplinary records and within the same week that an officer shot and killed an elderly, mentally ill Bronx woman in her home.

With new leadership at the CCRB as well as the NYPD, where Commissioner James O’Neill took over from Bratton six weeks ago, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, said this is the “critical and right time to have this hearing.”

Besides the usual questions about procedures and agency efficiency, Gibson said, “We also wanted to look at the future of the CCRB. It’s critical that, as CCRB continues to grow...I want to find out how the relationship with the police department is going to be.” Looking ahead to next year’s budget season, Gibson said the hearing would also help the Council determine how to help the CCRB to more effectively do its job.

CCRB Chair Wiley said she looks forward to being able to show the committee the improvements and impact the agency has made in handling cases and in building community relationships. “We’re in a situation where we’re consolidating the improvements made in the past two years,” she said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. Just last month, the agency released a new website and made data on police misconduct allegations easier to access and understand as part of a larger Data Transparency Initiative.

The CCRB compiles four main categories of data - complaints, allegations, victims, and alleged victims - and demographic data on NYPD personnel, and issues monthly, annual, and semi-annual statistical reports. It also examines issues of police misconduct and releases reports with recommendations for improving policies and procedures.

Wiley said she is also looking for ways to increase discussions about policing in communities and awareness among people about CCRB’s role. “It’s certainly an area of growth opportunity for the agency,” she said. But she won’t be surprised if she’s asked about the controversy over section 50-A of the Civil Rights Law. That provision has given the mayor and the NYPD legal justification, they say, to shield from disclosure the personnel records, including disciplinary proceedings of the CCRB, of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. During a time where several entities were seeking Pantaleo’s CCRB record, the NYPD stopped publicly posting promotions and disciplinary actions at One Police Plaza after decades of doing so.

Last Friday, the mayor proposed changes to the law that would allow for more transparency and disclosure of officer disciplinary records. Even though the de Blasio administration is appealing a court ruling that said the city could release Pantaleo’s record, de Blasio has said he favors disclosure. Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocates, said the mayor’s proposal was a red herring that doesn’t in fact create substantive reform. A number of groups and experts have said that the city could continue to post NYPD personnel records and have questioned the city’s appeal.

Josmar Trujillo, an organizer with the Coalition to End Broken Windows, a police reform organization, said it would be interesting to see the Council do “oversight of an oversight agency,” but he questioned whether it would be substantial. “From my experience, the CCRB kinda just limps along and tweaks a few things, and the City Council isn’t really involved,” he said. He criticized the CCRB as an “ornamental agency” that has limited capacity to hold police officers accountable, a critique that has been echoed by other advocates of police reform in the past. Earlier this year, government reform group Citizens Union proposed solutions to that issue, calling for structurally and legally empowering the CCRB as part of a larger position on police accountability. Citizens Union also wants more public information from the police commissioner when he or she disagrees with a CCRB recommendation for officer discipline.

Although reform may not be on the committee’s stated agenda for Friday, Trujillo hopes the Council will show how they can act as an outside check on the relationship between the mayor and the CCRB, and look at how the new chair of the board is handling her role.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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City Council to Examine NYPD Oversight Board Thu, 20 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000