New York City’s police oversight agency – the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) – substantiated allegations of police misconduct in just 27% of the 321 complaints it received within its jurisdiction arising from the 2020 racial-justice protests, according to the new numbers released on Wednesday.
The agency recommended discipline in these cases, and the police commissioner decides whether to impose it.
“Out of the 321 cases, the CCRB conducted full investigations for 223 cases and substantiated misconduct in 87 cases,” said CCRB Interim-Chair Arva Rice at the agency’s monthly board meeting. “The CCRB has recommended misconduct against 143 members of service, 88 of whom have been recommended the highest level of discipline.”
Of the smaller number of cases CCRB was able to fully investigate – meaning the complaints weren’t dropped – the agency said 39% of the police misconduct complaints were substantiated. Fifty-nine cases were closed because the officers involved could not be identified.
The CCRB received a flood of complaints during weeks of protests that erupted in the city after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and it had been in a race to close those cases before they reached a statute of limitations on May 4th. Rice said the agency had closed 98% of the cases and that only five remained outstanding.
The agency’s executive director, Jonathan Darche, acknowledged that CCRB investigators had struggled to fully investigate many of the 2020 protest cases due the NYPD’s failure to follow procedures during the protests.
An investigation by Gothamist found that several CCRB staff members wanted the agency to be more publicly vocal early in the investigation process about the obstacles the police department was posing in identifying officers, but said that those calls were rebuked by the agency’s leadership.
“There were some challenges specifically around identifying officers from these complaints due to failure to follow proper protocol when signing arrests or summonses, officers covering their names and shield, officers wearing protective equipment that the shield numbers on the protective equipment did not correspond to the officer, the lack of proper use of body-worn camera, and finally incomplete and severely delayed paperwork,” Darche said Wednesday.
Interviews with nearly a dozen current and former CCRB employees showed that the agency did not follow its own protocols for investigating large-scale protests.
The CCRB’s Investigation Manual instructs that all complaints arising from one protest event should be assigned to a single squad of investigators so that staff can easily share evidence and coordinate on cases. Instead, CCRB investigators said related cases were scattered across the agency, making it difficult to collaborate and often causing investigators to duplicate their efforts, staff told Gothamist.
The pandemic contributed to those impediments.
“Investigators were faced with unprecedented challenges while investigating the highest volume of cases the agency has ever received while working remotely for the first time ever,” Rice said. “Our investigators worked diligently to collect all possible evidence to thoroughly and fairly investigate each and every complaint, providing the board everything they needed to make a recommendation to the NYPD.”
In the initial weeks that followed the protests in 2020, the unions that represent members of the NYPD had refused to take part in remote interviews with CCRB investigators and the police department failed to quickly turn over footage from officers’ body-worn cameras, leading to a backlog of more than 1,100 footage requests. Agency staff told Gothamist this slowed investigations into police misconduct during the protests.
Advocates for increased oversight of the NYPD have said the difficulties in obtaining video evidence are a sign that the CCRB should have direct access to the city’s body-cam database, which is currently controlled by the NYPD.
Under the city’s police oversight system, the CCRB can only recommend that discipline be imposed against officers, which can include the loss of vacation days or that officers undergo training. The decision over whether those recommendations are followed lies with the police commissioner. The CCRB reported that the NYPD had thus far only finalized 44 cases and imposed no discipline on 23 of the officers involved, with just 18 officers facing discipline.