By Tandy Lau
Who watches the watchdogs? Well, a small audience of stakeholders and concerned citizens apparently, as the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) held its monthly board meeting last Wednesday in Tribeca to discuss efforts to include bias based policing, racial profiling and improper use of body-worn cameras within the scope of investigating NYPD misconduct.
Traditionally, the CCRB defers allegations of profiling and bias-based policing to the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. But with over 3,400 complaints filed between 2014 to 2021, only four were substantiated. Samah Sisay, a Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, says there’s a natural assumption that watchdogs like the CCRB exist to investigate racial bias and profiling. In fact, the organization was originally established by the NYPD due to public demands for police oversight after repeated misconduct against Black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers back in 1953.
“We are very happy for that change, because a lot of the work that we do is looking at [Internal Affairs Bureau] investigations,” she said. “And I feel that the CCRB is better situated to do these these investigations that are bias based or racial profiling, because it’s not internal to the NYPD. It’s a civilian board.”
Sisay offered her testimony on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the former employer of Darius Charney, who was announced as the director of the CCRB’s Racial Profiling/Biased Policing Investigations Unit last September. There are high hopes for Charney, who served as lead counsel on Floyd v. City of New York which determined that the NYPD was stopping and frisking Black and Brown New Yorkers, violating their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in the process.
“He’s been working to eliminate racial profiling in New York City policing for 20 years,” said Andrew Case, senior counsel of LatinoJustice. “He’s an absolute star of this world. And it’s really exciting that the CCRB hired him because it shows that they’re taking the issue seriously, and I think that people should know that the CCRB now has this power, it’s going to be a challenge for them to execute it properly.”
In their testimonies, both Sisay and Case welcomed the addition of “improper use of body-worn cameras” under the definition of “abuse of authority.” Sisay recommended expanding the term to also refer to improper reporting of stops, while Case advised the 13 CCRB members, who review each individual allegation, to delegate complaints and focus on sample cases to ensure thoroughness and efficiency. City council speaker Adrienne Adams fully supported the proposed rules while the NYPD and police unions, Captains Endowment Association and the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, offered written testimonies criticizing the changes.
Like the Internal Affairs Bureau, the CCRB cannot dole out disciplinary actions, only recommendations. So the ball remains in the court of Mayor Eric Adams and Commissioner Keechant Sewell, who typically has the final say.
“Mayor Adams, though he’s pro-police, has made it clear he thinks that those officers who engage in wrongful conduct should be punished for it,” said Case. “And this will be the real test when the CCRB start saying ‘yes, this officer engaged in racial profiling, what are you going to do about it?’ We’ll see if the department will take seriously racial profiling, which it hasn’t taken seriously before, once the CCRB identifies officers who engage in it.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w