After the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner at the hands of police last week, the organization charged with adjudicating civilian complaints against the NYPD says it will review the more than 1,000 incidents in which New Yorkers say officers illegally used choke holds. Yet of those 1,000 or so incidents reported to the Civilian Complaint Review Board since 2009, only nine were substantiated, a statistic that reflects the agency's longstanding inability to meaningfully impact police behavior.
Until just a few days ago, the CCRB didn't even have a leader. "You guys look like you're on life support," NYCLU attorney Chris Dunn recently told the board members at their monthly public meeting. "If I'm the department, I see that you guys are hobbled."
After more than six months of waiting, Mayor de Blasio appointed attorney Richard Emery as the CCRB's chair on July 17, the day Garner died in police custody.
As Matt Sledge reported in May, the NYCLU obtained an internal memo from the NYPD showing that the department believes it is immune from any complaints that arise during police stops that involve frisks. Agency employees also told Dunn that the city's Department of Investigation is investigating the CCRB for leaking the memo to Dunn, which was puzzling given that it's not illegal or improper from them to do so.
"It would be a serious issue if the board, or the agency, or frankly the city were investigating people within the CCRB who made available to the public a policy memo about a significant police practice issue: namely the frisking of people in conjunction with a summons," Dunn said.
Now, the agency that has received more funding and slightly more power but somehow wasn't capable of receiving complaints about the NYPD for months because of a broken phone line, is charged with investigating the prevalence of choke holds, a tactic that is explicitly banned in the NYPD's patrol guide.
The CCRB's site defines the word force as "the use of excessive or unnecessary force; behavior that includes punching, shoving or choking a civilian, using pepper spray and up to and including the use of deadly force."
The CCRB's new chair told the Times that his agency is "in the unique position of being able to look at the chokehold complaints it has received to attempt to discern why officers continue to use this forbidden practice.”
Their ability to do something about it is a different question.