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Complaints against NYPD spiked in 2019

September 18, 2019 Noah Goldberg

Complaints against New York City police officers spiked in 2019, rising nearly 20 percent from last year — and new statistics released by the city suggest that cops and civilians cooperating to resolve those cases are having more trouble doing so.

The number of total complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board — which handles allegations of discourtesy, offensive language, excessive use of force and abuse of authority by uniformed police officers — rose by nearly 1,000 in fiscal year 2019, from 4,392 complaints last year to 5,236 this year, according to statistics released Tuesday in the annual Mayor’s Management Report.

And even while complaints surged, cases in which both the police officer and the complainant agreed to try mediation dropped by about 10 percent from 2018 to 2019 — from 550 to 500.

Complaints could be up because of the city’s new “right-to-know” law passed in 2017, which went into effect in October 2018, according to Councilmember Donovan Richards, who leads the council’s Public Safety Committee.

The law requires officers to identify themselves by name, rank, command and shield number at the beginning of certain interactions with civilians. The law also requires the officers to have business cards bearing the same information, as well as information about how to file a complaint against an officer.

“We’ve been expecting an increase in reports of officer misconduct since the implementation of right-to-know in 2018 and while mediations can be helpful to find a resolution, this method is not always the most beneficial to the complainant, particularly in cases of unnecessary use of force,” said Richards in a statement to the Brooklyn Eagle. “It’s hard to say whether the drop in mediations is good or bad depending on each individual case.”

A spokesperson for the CCRB said that while it’s “impossible to know each individual civilian’s motivation for filing a complaint with the CCRB, it’s worth noting that the CCRB Outreach Unit delivered 1,070 presentations in 2018 — the largest number in agency history.”

When Mayor Bill De Blasio was asked at a press conference about the statistics on Tuesday, he said that it’s important that the CCRB’s “process be speedy.”

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“And that’s something we really focus on. You know, we need speedy justice for everyone,” the mayor said.

His comments were at odds with the statistics his administration released Tuesday, which showed that the time it took for the CCRB to complete a full investigation rose by 59 days in 2019 — from 190 to 249. The CCRB’s stated goal in the Mayor’s Management Report is to complete full investigations in 120 days.

The mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his statements.

Some complaints filed with the CCRB end up in administrative trials presided over by an NYPD judge — like in the case of former Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014 — but others are closed through mediation, in which complaining members of the public and the officer accused of misconduct are placed in a room with a professional mediator to hash it out.

The mediation process does not result in discipline for officers, though complainants who choose mediation do not forfeit their right to pursue an investigation if they do not feel mediation was successful, according to a spokesperson for the CCRB.

In 2019, the success rate of mediation dropped to 88 percent from 95 percent in 2018. Over the last five years the success rate has hovered around 90 percent, though CCRB says its goal is to consistently hit 94 percent or higher.

“The number of successful mediations and instances of mutual agreement to mediate fluctuate on a yearly basis, however, since 2015 both data points have been trending upward,” a spokesperson for the agency said.

Mediation is not an option in cases in which the complainant has an open criminal case stemming from the incident or plans to file a lawsuit against the city, or if the incident caused someone physical injury.

Administrative trials and plea deals against officers have steeply declined over the past five years. In 2016, 137 cases were closed by administrative trial as opposed to just 19 in 2019.

The CCRB is funded yearly at around $16 million. The board has requested the city to fund it at one percent of the NYPD’s budget. That would more than triple the CCRB’s budget to over $50 million.

“We have to ensure that CCRB has the proper resources, increased access to body cam footage and provides the most transparency possible during their investigations so that all victims of an officer abusing their power feel comfortable coming forward,” Richards said.

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