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The Cops

Eric Adams: Defund the Police Oversight

The Civilian Complaint Review Board's budget has been so decimated that it has already stopped investigating whole categories of police misconduct.

A crowd of NYPD officers milling about
(Flickr / Andrew)|

(Flickr / Andrew)

If you wanted to create a police department unaccountable to civilian oversight, where officer misconduct goes uninvestigated, victims of that misconduct have no recourse, bad actors are promoted to positions of ever greater authority, and a culture of impunity rots the department from within, a good way to do it would be to systematically strangle the budget of the watchdog agency tasked with keeping cops on the straight and narrow.

As it happens, that's exactly what's going on in New York City. In testimony to the City Council on Wednesday distressingly reminiscent of their testimony last year, officials from the Civilian Complaint Review Board described an escalating campaign of defunding by the Adams administration that has forced the oversight body to stop investigating whole categories of police misconduct entirely. The mayor's proposed budget for FY2025 cuts CCRB funding by 11 percent to $22.6 million, a reduction that's already in place thanks to mid-year "Program to Eliminate the Gap," or PEG, cuts announced in November. Since January, CCRB Acting Chair Arva Rice testified, the board has had to give up on investigating a whole suite of misconduct allegations, including allegations that cops threatened someone, that cops refused to take a complaint, that cops were discourteous, or—here's a big one—that cops lied.

"We did not have the funding to investigate all complaints within our jurisdiction," Rice said. "This was a last resort, and if it were possible, we would continue investigating all civilian complaints within our jurisdiction."

Already this year, the oversight agency has had to walk away from 459 complaints because it doesn't have enough staff to investigate them, Rice said, and it has referred an additional 73 cases back to the NYPD. (In those cases, the department will be investigating itself.)

The amount of money we're talking about here is, in municipal budget terms, paltry. Rice estimates that it would require about $37.7 million for the CCRB to actually fulfill its oversight mandate properly next year—about 0.7 percent of the NYPD's $5.4 billion budget.

Meanwhile, even as the Adams administration is shrinking the CCRB budget down to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub, the number of civilian complaints about police misconduct that are made to the agency are ballooning. According to Rice, complaints were up 50 percent in 2023 over the previous year, reaching the highest level in a decade. Rice also noted that so far this year, complaints are already up an additional 14 percent when compared to the same time period from 2023.

Understaffing isn't just a function of the dollars allocated to the CCRB in the official City budget, Rice testified. For example, in 2022, when the City Council tasked the CCRB with investigating racial profiling and bias-based policing, the council funded 33 positions for the new unit. But the Office of Management and Budget, which answers to the mayor, only authorized 19 hires. 

Meanwhile, nearly 10 percent of those staff the CCRB does have are in an administrative limbo, waiting for raises and promotions that OMB has yet to approve. "There's a real concern that we're going to lose a lot of people in the next few months, especially if the promotions that are pending in the Office of Management and Budget are not approved," CCRB Executive Director Jonathan Darche testified Wednesday. Turnover among investigators, the backbone of the CCRB, is already high. The starting salary for a CCRB investigator is $46,000, Darche testified. "Well, there's your problem right there," Queens City Councilmember Bob Holden said. "How do you live in New York City on $44,000?"

The budget cuts weaken an already imperfect civilian oversight regime: At the best of times, the CCRB can only make disciplinary recommendations—the NYPD still retains final say over whether offending officers suffer any consequences. One notorious recent example: After the NYPD withheld critical video evidence of the 2019 police killing of Kawaski Trawick from CCRB investigators for more than a year and a half, the top NYPD administrative judge ruled that the statute of limitations had run out on the case, and recommended that the cops who shot Trawick to death within seconds of pushing open his door should skate. After extensive media coverage of that misadventure in police accountability, the NYPD and the CCRB signed a nonbinding agreement that the NYPD would get video evidence to CCRB investigators faster in the future. That's cold comfort for Trawick's family, who are still waiting for a final ruling from NYPD Commissioner Caban six months after the recommendation landed on his desk.

A more lasting way to avoid the quiet suffocation of the CCRB would be to peg its budget to the police department it's tasked with managing. In Miami and Chicago, the oversight bodies are guaranteed a budget equal to at least one percent of the police budget. If that rule were to be adopted in New York City, it would double the CCRB's budget.

Instead, as misconduct complaints skyrocket, the civil mechanism for addressing misconduct is being gutted, with foreseeable consequences.

"For people to trust in the police," Rice testified Wednesday, "they must have faith that there is a system that holds police officers responsible for misconduct."

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