The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) has acted as a fact-finding organization. It has no direct authority over police officers. It consists of 13 city appointees who sit atop a large investigative apparatus of roughly 100 civilian investigators and their supervisors who do the actual work of looking into allegations of police misconduct.
In New York City, the job of CCRB investigator is an entry-level position. In other cities it’s done by accredited lawyers, but in New York anyone may perform this job as long as the job requirements are met—a bachelor’s degree and critical thinking skills, basically—do not quite prepare people to canvass housing projects in dangerous neighborhoods, obtain information from recalcitrant and hostile civilians and police officers, or perform nuanced analyses of fact patterns in light of complex case law. The CCRB indirectly reinforces the misconduct and impunity it’s meant to combat. Most investigators learn these things by doing them, but much time and money is lost in the process.
When a person files a complaint, they deliver a sworn statement detailing the incident at the CCRB’s offices in lower Manhattan. An investigator is assigned to the case and goes about obtaining evidence, including witness testimony, police documentation, medical records, and testimony from the officers involved. After compiling the evidence, the investigator assigns the case one of four dispositions: substantiated (the alleged action happened and was misconduct), exonerated (the action happened but was acceptable), unfounded (the action did not happen), or unsubstantiated(insufficient evidence to make a determination). If the Board agrees that a case is substantiated, it forwards it to the Department Advocate’s Office, the NYPD branch that internally prosecutes cops accused of wrongdoing, with a recommendation of discipline.
But there was a double standard at work. Officially, the standard of proof by which the CCRB reaches a finding is a “preponderance of the evidence,” often explained as a standard of 51 percent: If something was more likely than not to have happened, we concluded that it happened. But in my experience, this standard applied only to cases that cleared officers of wrongdoing. Cases closed as substantiated were held to a higher standard, something much more like the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used by criminal courts.
Title: The Thin Blue Line
Author: David Noriega
Student Researcher: Doris Flores, Sonoma State University
Community Evaluator: Tom Bohanan, Santa Rose PD