New York City’s police watchdog agency, which already takes almost two years on average to close misconduct cases, faces a potential budget cut that could further prolong cases against officers accused of bad behavior.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board already slashed 3% of its budget earlier this year, and has been asked by the mayor to cut another 3% — or about $700,000. Advocates said that cut would stall efforts to fill vacant positions, making it harder to investigate and prosecute civilian complaints.

“The city’s facing some difficult circumstances, but this is not the place to be cutting,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Christopher Dunn.

The 3% budget cut is part of a city-wide ask that Mayor Eric Adams has posed to every local government department, as the administration prepares for a potential multibillion-dollar budget gap in the years to come. Several agencies, including the CCRB, have already faced one round of budget cuts since Adams took office.

The threat of funding cuts comes at a time when the CCRB has more responsibilities than ever, while its cases are languishing for much longer than they were a few years ago. As of September, the CCRB had nearly 3,300 open cases — more than 700 of which were over a year old — according to the agency’s latest statistical report. Now, CCRB officials and police oversight advocates worry another funding cut would make it even more difficult to hold officers accountable for bad behavior.

The mayor’s office said in a statement that it is “laser-focused” on promoting both public safety and justice, and that it is committed to ensuring that the CCRB has the resources it needs to complete its work “in a timely and effective manner.” A spokesperson did not provide any further details about what resources it would provide or whether the CCRB would be exempted from the hiring policy.

The NYPD said it is working on trimming its own budget, but that it’s also working with the CCRB to hand over records more quickly. The Police Benevolent Association blamed the watchdog agency for contributing to the “miserable working environment” driving officers away from the department.

“They’ve spent years expanding their staffing and budget so that they can actively solicit more complaints,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement.

Local laws and litigation last year allowed the CCRB to expand its investigative powers, to take on cases about racial profiling, improper use of body cameras and sexual misconduct. Staffers have also been racing to complete investigations into hundreds of complaints filed against officers at the 2020 protests following the killing of George Floyd.

“These protest cases were much more complicated than the average complaint we receive and therefore more time intensive,” board chairman Arva Rice said in an email. “CCRB investigators worked diligently with all the tools at their disposal to clear this backlog and reduce investigation timelines.”

About one in five full time positions at the CCRB is already unfilled, according to the Independent Budget Office. And a cost-saving policy allows city agencies to hire only one new employee for every two that leave, with exceptions for public health and safety positions, as well as other jobs on a case-by-case basis. That means agencies like the CCRB, which have a backlog of open jobs, are struggling to fill them, even when they have identified qualified candidates.

The city charter requires one CCRB employee for every 154 New York Police Department uniform officers. Even as the NYPD grapples with its own staffing shortages, police still outnumber oversight officials at a higher rate than they’re supposed to.

‘The city should prioritize that’

Staffing shortages are especially dire in the CCRB’s Administrative Prosecution Unit, which handles the most serious cases, like killings by police. Members of the unit act as prosecutors, preparing cases and arguing before a judge when the CCRB finds enough evidence to charge an officer with a severe policy violation. Eight positions in the 17-person unit are unfilled.

Rice told Gothamist in an email that the CCRB has been waiting since August for approval from the city’s budget office to hire four prosecutors. If the hires aren’t cleared soon, Rice worries the candidates will move on.

Andrew Case, who worked for the CCRB from 2001 to 2008 and now advocates for criminal justice reform as senior counsel at LatinoJustice said the city should prioritize staffing up the CCRB. Case thinks the Administrative Prosecution Unit should be exempted from cost-saving measures, given that it handles “the most serious cases against officers who have already been found to have committed misconduct.”

“It’s critically important that that work get done,” he said. “These are the officers that could hurt someone else or could kill someone else.”

Delays within the agency also take a toll on victims of police misconduct, as well as the loved ones of those who have been killed by police.

At a CCRB meeting this summer, Ellen Trawick, whose son Kawaski Trawick was shot to death in his Bronx apartment in 2019, pleaded with the board to schedule a trial for the officers involved in her son’s death. Two months later, she and her husband traveled from Georgia for a hearing to set a trial date, only to be rescheduled, because one of the officers didn’t have an attorney. The Trawicks’ lawyer, Royce Russell, said the city shouldn't let cases linger on for years.

"It reflects the disrespect, the inhumane treatment that has been given to this family,” he said. “We heard that the wheels of justice move slowly. Well, we've got a flat tire here. The wheel is not even moving."

The Trawicks are one of many families waiting for a resolution from a civilian complaint.

Samy Feliz’s brother, Allan Feliz, was killed during a traffic stop in 2019. Last month, on the third anniversary of his brother’s death, Feliz learned the CCRB had yet to complete its investigation into the case. The police department and the state attorney general’s office have both conducted their own investigations and chosen not to bring disciplinary or criminal charges. An attorney for the officer who fired his gun said he was confident the CCRB would reach the same conclusion.

But Samy Feliz said he won’t feel safe as long as the officers involved in his brother’s death are still working for the NYPD. All three officers have been promoted since Allan Feliz’s death and have received numerous awards from the department, according to their officer profiles on the NYPD website.

“It doesn’t give me or my family any type of mental relief knowing that these officers are still out in the streets,” Samy Feliz said. “They’re still patrolling. They’re still interacting with civilians in this state.”

A growing bottleneck

A recent report from the mayor’s office found CCRB investigations between July 2021 and June 2022 typically took an average of 591 days to complete, up 56% from the average of 378 days during the same period the year prior. An audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, first reported by The City, revealed that delays within the CCRB have been building for years, with investigations taking 211 days on average in 2018, 248 days in 2019 and 317 days in 2020.

Rice, the board’s chair, said the pandemic was the biggest driver of the backlog, as city agencies adapted to remote work and the CCRB negotiated with police to conduct virtual interviews. She also cited the deluge of complaints after the 2020 protests and an effort to fully investigate more allegations. Rice added that the agency has “reorganized its methods” for records requests to speed up the case timeline.

Meanwhile, families like the Felizes, the Trawicks and others killed by police in recent years have urged both the CCRB and the police department to work more quickly to investigate shootings and killings by police.

The mayor has pledged to “revamp and reform” police discipline, in order to speed up the process and ensure that there’s a “clear standard” for punishment. But Dunn with NYCLU said Adams needs to “put the money where his mouth is.”

“The mayor can talk all he wants,” Dunn said. “Nobody’s going to believe it until he starts doing something, and the first thing you can do is properly fund the CCRB.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated which office published an audit about delays at the police watchdog agency the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The Audit was done by the office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.