New York City’s new tough-on-crime mayor, Eric Adams, has cut the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s budget by 3% — along with a number of other city agencies — for the rest of this fiscal year and the foreseeable future, the police watchdog agency’s executive director, Jonathan Darche, said at a monthly board meeting late Wednesday.
“It is going to be a challenging process to make sure that we make choices that allow the agency to continue to function in a way that serves the people,” Darche said, noting that Adams and his new director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jacgues Jiha, approached senior members of city government on Monday night to inform them of a budget gap and that the CCRB was among the agencies being asked to cut spending.
“I want to stress that the mayor spoke strongly of the need to avoid layoffs in meeting this challenge and also stated that the services offered to residents of the city cannot be compromised,” Darche said. “There’s going to be a hold placed on promotions and new hires.”
The CCRB said the move was temporary, and that it could fill open positions by the end of this fiscal year and stay within its budget. But a reduction in funding and personnel going forward could hinder the oversight agency’s ability to wield a new slate of powers it recently acquired to investigate police misconduct, according to advocates and people within the agency.
In April, the City Council passed legislation that granted the board the authority to investigate racial profiling and biased-based policing. In November, the CCRB prevailed in a lawsuit brought by the Police Benevolent Association, with the Supreme Court of the State of New York ruling it was allowed to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct against NYPD officers. And a vote by the City Council in December granted the board the ability to self-initiate complaints against officers based on video documentation and other evidence, whereas it had previously relied on official complaints filed by civilians who are sometimes reluctant to come forward for fear of retaliation.
“We now are facing a much darker period, I’m afraid, when it comes to police oversight,” said Chris Dunn, legal director of the New York Civil LIberties Union, at the CCRB’s board meeting, which also marked the departure of the board’s chair, Rev. Frederick Davie, who was originally appointed to lead the agency by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016.
“I’ve served in this role long enough and it’s time for someone else to take the helm,” Davie said, adding that he believed the CCRB had made “great strides” over the past six years. “These new powers of investigation are critical developments.”
Current and former investigators at the agency, who spoke to WNYC/Gothamist but asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said the new power to self-initiate complaints could increase the agency’s caseload and require additional investigators. In the past, complaints in which people declined to provide sworn statements were often closed, a process that resulted in large numbers of cases being cleared from the CCRB’s docket, the employees said.
The increased caseload could put a burden on the agency’s relatively small staff, tasked with overseeing misconduct within the largest police department in the country.
A spokesperson for the mayor, Jonah Allon, said the administration sent a letter to a wide range of city agencies, including the NYPD, notifying them of a need to cut their budgets by 3%. “The CCRB is not being singled out. It’s just one of the city agencies that is being covered under this new fiscal plan,” he said.
At present, the CCRB employs a staff of 260 with a budget of $24.5 million, an increase from the previous year as a result of the agency’s expansion to include the new unit investigating incidents of racial bias in policing — but a fraction of the more than $10 billion, 35,000-strong police force the CCRB is charged with overseeing.
Darche said cuts to the CCRB’s budget will be difficult, but not an emergency. “I actually think because we haven't fully implemented the racial profiling and biased-based policing unit, we should be OK for this fiscal year. It is in the out years, especially next fiscal year, where the challenge will be,” he said, adding the agency will be working with the Office of Management and Budget to develop a plan.
The CCRB has been slow to fill new investigator positions for the biased-based policing unit, according to sources within the agency.
“To the extent that the agency has fewer investigators, that is going to hinder its ability to investigate complaints,” said the NYCLU’s Dunn in an interview where he expressed concern about who Adams will appoint to lead the agency. “I think the much bigger question we face now is, is the Adams administration going to clamp down on CCRB accountability along with all accountability?”
Davie, the board’s outgoing chair, said he’d notified then-mayoral candidate Eric Adams in June of last year that he planned to resign in the new year, shortly after Adams won the Democratic primary. On his way out, Davie expressed concern over an increasing number of substantiated police misconduct cases where the board had recommended disciplinary action, but the NYPD chose not to enforce the board’s decision. Under the city’s long standing rules, the police commissioner has ultimate veto power over whether to accept the board’s “recommendations” for discipline.
Last year, the standard concurrence rate for how often the NYPD accepted the agency’s decisions fell from 73% to 68%, according to Davie, while more serious complaints of misconduct prosecuted by the agency’s Administrative Prosecution Unit saw a concurrence rate of just 27% in 2021, compared to a pre-pandemic 32% in 2019 and 35% in 2018 according to city records.
That’s despite the fact that then-police commissioner Dermot Shea signed a memorandum of understanding with the CCRB in February of last year establishing a “disciplinary matrix” that was intended to establish set disciplinary guidelines for specific acts of misconduct, making it harder for the commissioner to ignore the agency’s recommendations.
“This development is extremely concerning,” said Davie, who recently served on Adams’ transition committee for public safety and justice. “The CCRB hopes to work with Mayor Adams and the new administration to rectify the situation.”
As he has in many recent monthly board meetings, Davie called on city leaders to continue to strengthen the agency’s oversight powers, including the power to have final say over police discipline.
“This recent development only reaffirms my belief that the only pathway to true accountability of police misconduct is by granting the CCRB final disciplinary authority for CCRB cases,” Davie said.
Editor's Note: This article was corrected. It mistakenly said Mayor Adams and OMB director, Jacgues Jiha, approached senior members of the CCRB on Monday. They had instead approached senior members of city government.