A City Commission Probes Police Accountability

Young New Yorkers filled the room at City Hall on March 7th, as the commission discussed police accountability. (NYCityLens/ Lizzie Mulvey)

Audience members held up photos of John Callado, Delrawn Small, Eleanor Bumpers, among others– men and women who have died at the hands of the NYPD- in a packed City Hall meeting on March 7th set up to discuss an important issue for New Yorkers: police accountability.

“The commission has received many proposals for reforming and strengthening police accountability and the disciplinary system,” said Gail Benjamin, chair of the New York City Charter Revision Commission, which was created by Mayor Bill de Blasio to help amend the New York City charter. The  commission holds public meetings and hearings, and can add initiatives on the ballot for people to vote on.

At the public meeting on Thursday, 11 experts were invited to share their recommendations for changes to the charter. With only three minutes to speak, each one made an impassioned appeal for changes to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police disciplinary agency, to increase police accountability.

The panelists primarily focused their recommendations around two areas: the lack of meaningful discipline when officers cause harm and the lack of transparency and meaningful oversight of major NYPD expenditures.

More specific recommendations from the panelists included codifying the board’s power to handle prosecution of complaints instead of NYPD lawyers and allowing the board to investigate police misconduct in absence of a complaint.

Pamela Monroe, one of the panelists, represented the Campaign for an Elected Civil Review Board, a coalition of 44 organizations that is seeking to replace the current board with elected instead of appointed members.  At the moment, the members are appointed by the mayor, the police commissioner or the City Council. 

“We have good reason to be afraid,” said Monroe. “Over 17,000 civilian complaints were made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, but zero officers have been fired.” According to Monroe, New York City has paid $384 million to settle police misconduct claims in the past five years.

“The Civilian Complaint Review Board has failed,” she said.

Audience members cheered, ignoring the chair’s injunction to refrain from clapping and booing. “Applause,” shouted an older man, walking around filming the scene. With many young people in attendance, the energy in the crowd was high.

“Even babies showed up to our police accountability expert forum!” said one tweet from the Charter 2019 NYC account.

Executive Director Jonathan Darche, another panelist, offered four recommendations for charter revisions to help strengthen the board. Among them:  enabling the board’s highest ranking staff with the power to sign subpoenas and amending the board’s budget to one percent of the NYPD’s budget, a fixed rate, instead of the $15,076,755 annual budget they received in 2016. 

Oleg Chernyavsky of the police commissioner’s office argued that a proposed change to grant the Civilian Complaint Review Board prosecutorial powers and the authority to make their decisions binding would  dilute the authority of the police commissioner. 

At around 9 p.m., the meeting adjourned. Chairwoman Gail Benjamin thanked the participants for coming. The audience members gathered their winter attire, and shuffled out with their signs still raised: “New Yorkers want an Elected Board to Hold Police Accountable.”


Correction: A previous version of the story had incorrectly identified the panelist Deputy Commissioner Kevin Richardson as being from the Civilian Complaint Review Board.