Our civic duty to improve police-community relations

The New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board is a manifestation of the age-old notion that those who ensure public safety need people who watch over them, too. We exist because officers make mistakes the way that we all make mistakes.

An independent agency since 1993, the CCRB investigates, mediates and prosecutes complaints of police misconduct involving excessive force, abuse of authority, discourtesy and offensive language. Our prosecutorial authority makes us one-of-a-kind in the country and one of the most important agencies in New York City. I make this statement not only as the agency’s acting chair but also as an African-American man who knows firsthand what it’s like to interact with the police—both when it goes well and on those rare occasions when it doesn’t.

Of the 35,000 people who make up the New York City Police Department, most serve with distinction. But there are times when some fail to honor the oath they took as recruits. That’s when the CCRB comes in. When the evidence shows that an officer violated the patrol guide, the CCRB has the power to recommend discipline on a scale that ranges from training to departmental charges. Although the police commissioner has final authority to impose the CCRB’s disciplinary recommendation—more often than not—the NYPD implements our recommendation. The agency uses this power judiciously as we work to ensure every officer interaction is conducted with professionalism and respect for civilians.

The CCRB’s 20-year-old mediation program allows New Yorkers to engage in meaningful dialogue with officers. It’s a chance for civilians to sit face-to-face and explain how officers’ actions affected them and the larger impact their incident has on police-community relations. As the CCRB’s 2017 Semi-Annual Report shows, for the first time in more than a decade, the number of successful mediations outpaced the number of mediations that were planned but never took place. We believe this development is the result of what many civilians tell us about their conversations with officers—that the chance to express themselves directly with an officer gives them a deep sense of relief and closure.

This time is an important time in civilian oversight in New York City. The prevalence of video recording devices and civilian recordings of police has already had an impact on policing. It can be seen in the higher rate at which the agency can determine what actually happened in the case when there is video. The impact will only become more pronounced as every patrol officer in the city will have a body-worn camera by the end of 2019. Not only will the body-worn cameras provide relevant video, but also they will provide audio as well. The video and audio provided by body-worn cameras will revolutionize civilian oversight in the City.

I invite all New Yorkers to attend the CCRB’s monthly public board meetings, where they can ask the board questions and share their experiences. Officers from the local precincts are often present to listen to the concerns of community members. January’s meeting will be at the Queens Library in Long Island City, but the agency holds meetings and events in every borough throughout the year.