Justice for All: Is civilian police oversight effective?

The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) has a track record of overlooking serious NYPD offenses, a Team 12 Investigation found.
We requested records from the CCRB a year ago, and they delivered a detailed account of over 150,000 complaints to News 12 back in March.
Expanded Coverage: Justice for All
The CCRB started in its modern form in 1993. It is tasked with investigating complaints against police officers who break the law.
Here’s what we found:
  • Only 7 out of the over 150,000 officers ever facing a complaint were terminated by CCRB investigation.
  • Seven percent of the CCRB complaints were found to be substantiated, meaning CCRB investigators were able to prove the allegations did happen.
  • That means 93% were not substantiated for various reasons, ranging from an inability to pursue the case, to lack of evidence, to fraudulent claims.
  • Of those substantiated complaints, our data shows the CCRB only recommended charges just over half the time, meaning those allegations should face an internal (APU) trial.
  • Eighty-nine times claims were found substantiated but no recommendation was given. 
  • Of the times the CCRB made a disciplinary recommendation for substantiated claims, the most popular NYPD response was to offer their officer instruction, the least serious penalty, according to our CCRB data.

    -The next most popular NYPD action was DUP, meaning the department was unwilling to prosecute.

    -Over 700 times, the department ruled no penalty was necessary for a substantiated claim

    -Over 1,000 times the department’s penalty response to CCRB recommendations were left blank, based on the records we were given. 

“MY SON WOULD BE HERE TODAY.” 
DANIEL PANTALEO WAS ONE OF THE OFFICERS TERMINATED AFTER A CCRB INVESTIGATION
News 12 met with Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner. Garner died in 2014 after being put in an unlawful chokehold during an arrest. 
We showed her the list of complaints against Daniel Pantaleo, who was fired from the NYPD after placing Garner in that chokehold.
She only knew of nine complaints. We showed her 14, all of which were filed before the chokehold. There were others filed after. 
“So many people are losing their lives because of bad police officers,” said Carr.
Carr told News 12 that had the CCRB investigators pushed for Pantaleo’s firing before her son’s death, she would have just celebrated her son’s 50th birthday.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE CCRB?
We spoke with a former CCRB investigator, keeping her identity hidden for her fear of retribution. She left the CCRB in 2015 due to frustration with its ineffectiveness. 
“They can completely ignore the evidence presented in the case and then just make their own decisions,” she told News 12, adding that the 51% threshold for proof the CCRB maintained was actually much higher because of how difficult it was to prove to the board that the allegation actually happened. 
She says investigators like herself often provided more than enough proof, but nothing was done with their findings. 
She continues, “I witnessed a lot of racism and classism toward the people who would file complaints of the CCRB... people talking about how they were unreliable, how some people were filing it just to try to get money from a lawsuit.”
HOW DOES THE CCRB WORK?
A civilian makes a complaint, and an investigation is launched into that complaint. 
Investigators either find that complaint substantiated, meaning there was enough evidence to prove the allegation happened, and that the officer acted unlawfully, or not-substantiated, which could happen for a variety of reasons, including:
  • Exonerated: There is evidence the officer committed the alleged act, but their actions were found to be lawful.
  • Unfounded: There wasn't enough credible evidence to find the officer did not commit the alleged act.
  • Unsubstantiated: The evidence found was insufficient to make a recommendation.
  • Officer(s) Unidentified: The CCRB couldn't identify the officer(s) in the allegation.
  • Miscellaneous: Likely means the officer is no longer a member of the NYPD.
  • Truncated Investigation: The investigation couldn’t be completed for a variety of reasons:
  • The CCRB could not find the complainant, the complainant was unresponsive to requests for interviews, the complaint was withdrawn, or the victim could not be identified. 
If the investigators find the complaint substantiated, they make a recommendation to the CCRB board, which votes on the final recommendation in panels of three.
Two members are either appointed by the mayor, city council, or public advocate. 
The third is appointed by the police commissioner.
The board, currently, is chaired by Fred Davie.
The board’s decision is floated to the NYPD, along with a suggested penalty. The NYPD responds to this suggestion with penalty, a departmental trial, or other outcome, like exoneration. The most common outcome for a substantiated claim is instruction at the police academy, our data found. 
The police commissioner has final say over disciplinary action.
WHAT IS BEING DONE?
We asked the chair of the CCRB about the agency’s past and future. 
“There's always room for improvement,” Davie told News 12. 
We asked him if Pantaleo’s case was an example of the agency working the way it’s meant to. He said yes, with a caveat:
“So the only problem with that case from the CCRB's point of view, is that it took us too long to get to it because the district attorney and the federal government asked for a hold,” said Davie.  “We have decided that that's not going to be the case anymore," adding the agency will pursue allegations as they come in.
Team 12 Investigates found dozens of serious substantiated complaints with no serious penalties. We asked Davie about them, who told us about their new disciplinary matrix, with a signed agreement, or 'memorandum of understanding' with the CCRB and NYPD, to help hold police officers accountable.
“There's a new disciplinary guideline, disciplinary matrix. It actually has what we call presumptive penalties,” Davie added, pointing to specific penalties for specific infractions. For example, unlawful chokeholds should lead to termination.
Still, Davie says the CCRB needs absolute authority over police discipline for it to be truly effective. “Final authority is what the CCRB needs.” Right now the police commissioner still has final say.
There is a bill in the state Senate Committee that could make that idea a reality. The law would give the CCRB ultimate say over what happens to officers who break the rules. 
Text and reporting by Sabrina Franza