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The NYPD Is Promising to Turn Over Misconduct Evidence Faster. It Won’t Help Kawaski Trawick’s Family

A new, non-binding agreement commits the NYPD to turn over evidence to the Civilian Complaint Review Board within 90 days.

Kawaski Trawick

Kawaski Trawick (Facebook)

More than two months after the leak of an NYPD disciplinary finding recommending no punishment at all for the police officers who killed Kawaski Trawick in his home in 2019, Trawick's parents are still waiting to learn if NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban will formalize the recommendation and let their son's killers off without so much as a lost vacation day.

That recommendation is based on an argument that the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which brought the disciplinary charges against the officers, waited too long to do so, allowing the statute of limitations to elapse. But as the CCRB, Trawick's family, and police accountability advocates noted, the reason the charges took so long to file is that the NYPD itself withheld critical evidence, including body cam footage, from the civilian watchdog for more than a year and a half. 

The NYPD retains control over officers' body-worn cameras, and it has long been department policy not to turn over any evidence to its civilian watchdog until after the NYPD's own Force Investigation Division has concluded its investigation. As the disciplinary case of Trawick's killers illustrates, it's a policy that has snarled the CCRB's ability to investigate police misconduct in a timely way. 

But that policy appears to be at an end, according to a new memorandum of understanding between the police department and the review board which commits the NYPD to turning over evidence to civilian investigators no more than 90 days from when it is requested.

The memorandum was signed December 5, but neither the NYPD nor City Hall made any mention of it. Asked by Hell Gate about the Trawick case in October, Mayor Adams said that he wants to "make sure we start creating a culture of turning over evidence, making sure we shorten the time that it takes."

The NYPD did not answer questions about when and why it entered into the agreement. The memorandum came weeks after ProPublica's Eric Umansky sent the NYPD questions about its policy in advance of his weighty investigation into the failure of body-worn cameras to live up to their hype as a police accountability tool—in large part because many police departments, including the NYPD, retain exclusive control of camera footage.

CCRB Chair Arva Rice announced the memorandum at the CCRB's monthly board meeting December 13. "Last week, Commissioner Caban and I signed an important memorandum of understanding that will help ensure cases are closed within the statute of limitations," she said. "We are pleased to have come to this agreement with the NYPD and hope it will ensure officers who commit misconduct cannot avoid discipline due to a technicality."

The memorandum is not binding, in the sense that either party can unilaterally withdraw from it and there's no penalty or consequence if the NYPD violates its terms. A 2021 memorandum of understanding between the agencies, meant to standardize disciplinary punishments for officer misconduct and requiring the police commissioner to explain themselves in writing when deviating from the CCRB's disciplinary recommendations, did not have the desired outcome. The Adams administration's first police commissioner, Keechant Sewell, boasted to officers of reducing or dismissing CCRB penalties in at least 72 cases, and then announced an apparently unilateral decision to amend the matrix to weaken its penalties.

Given the 90-day window permitted under the new memorandum, we won't know whether the NYPD is keeping to its promise until early March. The CCRB currently has some 15 cases held up awaiting evidence because of an NYPD Force Investigation Division investigation.  

Regardless, the new policy won't do anything for Kawaski Trawick's family. The memorandum only governs future cases. The mayor has made it clear that he is giving the NYPD free reign to let Trawick's killers off scott-free, and the NYPD won't say when Commissioner Caban will issue his final ruling on the matter.

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