Former CCRB staff are filing an amicus brief in federal court today. Here’s why:
New York City has long had a police accountability problem. The Civilian Complaint Review Board (“CCRB”) has been trying to investigate police misconduct for years, to mixed success. Now that the CCRB’s greatest achievement, its vast database of misconduct allegations, is being litigated in federal court, a group of former staff have signed on to an amicus brief, explaining what it’s in the public interest for this database to be made public. As former policy counsel to the CCRB, I took the role of lead counsel for this amicus, which was signed by 15 former staffers.
An outside party files an amicus in a case to give the court better context about the issues in the case, and we want the court (and the public) to understand how New York City currently investigates and makes determinations about alleged police misconduct. Here are the main points we cover and why they matter:
- Police misconduct is vigorously investigated by the CCRB. Investigators undergo extensive training on collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses, including police officers, and their work is reviewed by layers of mid-level CCRB staff before a recommendation is made. Importantly, for the purposes of this lawsuit, we explain that police officers’ personal information is not part of these investigations or the resulting reports, which is the one of the main arguments the police unions are making in opposition to the publication of CCRB data.
- The CCRB uses four different determinations for an allegation, including “substantiated”, which means there is clear evidence that misconduct took place. The other terms are often confusing to the public, even misleading, and that’s one of the issues in this case. In particular, the most common outcomes, “unsubstantiated” doesn’t mean an allegation didn’t happen (as the police unions are insinuating in this lawsuit), but rather that investigators could not find enough evidence that it happen to clear a high evidentiary bar. Explaining these terms is essential for the public to understand why the CCRB makes the determinations it does. For example, if the CCRB is “exonerating” a problematic allegation because it comports with NYPD policy, the issue is not with the CCRB; instead, it means we need to change NYPD policy.
- Finally, we discuss how the publication of the CCRB database will allow the agency to better fulfill its mission to investigate alleged misconduct and inform the public of policing practices. At a moment when public trust in the NYPD is frayed, publication of the database will increase transparency and accountability, and actually assist the CCRB in how it understands its own role.
Beyond its role in pursuing disciplinary action against NYPD officers, the most valuable role of the CCRB is its archiving vast troves of data and information on modern policing. The NYPD is the largest police department in the United States, and the CCRB’s database is the most thorough record in human history of alleged and actual police misconduct. We have spent years contributing thorough, rigorous information to this database. We have used this database to inform our work. We believe that New York’s public is entitled to do the same.
You can read a copy of our full amicus brief here.