In his second public meeting yesterday as chairman of the body tasked with investigating police misconduct, Richard Emery spoke frankly about how deeply flawed the Civilian Complaint Review Board really is. “It’s the very regrettable Vietnam metaphor,” Emery said. “You have to destroy the town in order to save it. Which is terrible, you know, but it’s like: Maybe we should be starting from the ground up.”

Emery also fielded accusations that his cozy relationship with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton meant that New Yorkers will again be denied real reform.

“We feel kind of uncomfortable in how independent you’re going to be,” said attendee Jose LaSalle, calling attention to the fact that Emery was Bratton’s lawyer in the early 2000s. “People do not trust y’all. People believe ya’ll toothless.”

Ephraim Cruz, who introduced himself as a former NYPD officer, former federal agent, and South Bronx resident, was even more direct: “That he remains as chairman, that the board has not made a motion to ask him to step down, speaks to the lack of credibility and integrity of this board,” Cruz said. “Is it too late to make that motion right now, to ask this man to step down? Because of his palling around and close relationship with Bratton?”

The question hung in the room, unanswered, and eventually Cruz sat down.

Emery defended his independence. “I’ve been a civil rights lawyer for my entire career,” he said. “I’ve handled many hundreds at least, of cases against police officers. So that has to speak more loudly than my relationship with Bratton.” Emery said that when he worked with Bratton more than a decade ago, “my relationship with him was friendly. And I’m counting on that relationship as an opportunity, because, as I’ve said before, the police department has the final authority over discipline.”

This, of course, is the crux of the jam Emery and the entire Civilian Complaint Review Board find themselves in: Technically an independent body, they nonetheless are powerless to discipline police officers, and can only pass on recommendations to the police commissioner—recommendations that the commissioner routinely ignores. That leaves the CCRB in the position of a supplicant, entreating the NYPD to take its oversight seriously.

It’s a problem Emery is clearly wrestling with, as he made evident in a meditative soliloquy delivered midway through Wednesday’s meeting.

“I haven’t figured out how it should work even in my own mind for purposes of discussion,” Emery said. “I’m completely at sea on this because it’s so ridiculously complex and there are so many factors playing into this. And then there’s this ultimate overriding authority that makes all this work kind of meaningless. So we have to come to a system where discipline is discipline and it’s not just some kind of recommendation to a higher authority…. How you do that exactly, when the overriding authority clearly has the statutory right and the underlying right to do that, it means that Commissioner Bratton or any police commissioner has to buy in to a different process.”

Emery revealed that he had taken part in a two-hour meeting the night before with Commissioner Bratton and top NYPD brass in charge of discipline. Based on that conversation, Emery said, the CCRB and the police would each assemble a small group “to look at trying to rationalize the entire interaction between CCRB and discipline so that it is understood that CCRB discipline is first class discipline, not second-class discipline, as compared to discipline within the department.”

“All of us agree that this system is baroque,” Emery said. “It’s too complicated, too crazy, too confused.”

As a first step, Emery suggested allowing CCRB prosecutors greater latitude in offering plea deals to the officers they’re prosecuting. Under the new plan, the police commissioner and board would sign off on plea deals before they were offered, rather than, as frequently happens now, nixing a deal at the very end of the process.

Collaborating with the NYPD in this way is important “so the CCRB can begin to get the kind of respect from the police department that it has not had in the past,” Emery said. “The whole point here is to try and have the police department ultimately give much more deference to the processes of this agency, because those processes are worthy of that deference.”

The raft of reforms Emery is undertaking—he also announced half a dozen subcommittees to consider more innovations Wednesday—are intended to improve relationships with police, he said.

“That goes along with all the reforms within this agency we hope that will create credibility in the police department and the police department will then view us, not as an adversary, but as a viable and collaborative form of discipline.”

Nick Pinto is a freelance writer living in New York. He recently wrote about a massive natural gas pipeline being built under the Rockaways and the NYPD's surveillance of The Young Lords.