The de Blasio administration says police officers facing allegations of abuse will be allowed to be interviewed in person or online by the city’s primary police watchdog group — potentially resolving an impasse that threatened to delay investigations.
The city’s four police unions have scoffed at allowing their members to be interviewed remotely by the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The unions contend lawyers are unable to speak privately with their clients during digital testimony.
As THE CITY reported last week, no cops have been interviewed by CCRB probers since before the pandemic hit.
At least one union leader said no deal is in place and that it remains unclear whether officers under investigation will cooperate with the oversight board.
The Detectives Endowment Association is “still weighing our options,” said union president Paul DiGiacomo.
A spokesperson for the Police Benevolent Association, the largest police union, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Ethan Teicher, a CCRB spokesperson, said that while the board was resuming in-person, socially-distanced, interviews, “It is the CCRB’s preference to conduct virtual interviews during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to safeguard the health of CCRB staff and NYPD members of service.”
Interviews are expected to begin in person on June 22, and online starting July 1, he said.
Last week, the detectives union said it wouldn’t allow members to testify remotely, with a lawyer for the group telling THE CITY, “As a basic policy, we don’t Zoom.”
On Wednesday, the DEA said it still had not been contacted by the CCRB about scheduling detective interviews.
More Disciplinary Changes Coming
The CCRB could technically force officers to cooperate by using the threat of internal discipline by the NYPD. But that rarely, if ever, happens, according to multiple sources familiar with the process.
There are 1,109 investigations awaiting police officer interviews, according to agency records. There has also been a spike in complaints tied to alleged officer abuses during the ongoing protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Asked about the impasse earlier in the day Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he expected the unions to comply with investigations.
“I think it’s incumbent upon everyone to participate in the judicial process and the discipline process. It’s not a choice for anyone,” he said at a news conference announcing reforms to the NYPD’s disciplinary system. “You can’t separate yourself from the justice process.”
Among the reforms he announced, de Blasio said the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau would be pushed to conclude investigations of incidents where civilians suffer “substantial” injuries during police encounters within two weeks.
The IAB previously was given an 18-month time limit to conclude all types of investigations, except those that could result in criminal charges. Those probes had no time limit.
The mayor also said that decisions on whether NYPD personnel involved in such incidents should be sidelined — through suspension or reassignment — would be made by the police commissioner within 48 hours.
On the related issue of transparency, the mayor said the police department would post information online next month on all pending disciplinary cases in which charges have been filed — about 1,100 currently.
The information shared will include the name of the officer, the charges and the resolution of the case.
The NYPD will also move to post the disciplinary records of all active police personnel online after that, the mayor said. He did not provide a timeline for the wider effort.
The announcement follows a number of other NYPD reforms out of City Hall — and follows last week’s repealing of a state law known as 50-a that for decades had shielded police disciplinary records from the public.
The de Blasio administration in 2016 began to interpret the law more broadly than prior administrations. It blocked a wider array of personnel records, and later defended its more conservative interpretation in court.
“This is the nation’s largest city, we have the nation’s largest police force,” de Blasio said on Wednesday. “For the nation’s largest police force to take these actions sends a message — not only to the people in this city, but to people all over this country — that we can do things very differently.”
Some advocacy groups that have fought for greater transparency at the NYPD said they were cautiously optimistic about the news.
“While we appreciate the mayor’s announcement today, we cannot hail this as the sea change we need because we still need much more information on the specifics of this proposal,” the New York Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. “Making police disciplinary records publicly available is an important and necessary step, but past experience makes us wary of the potential for half-measures that fail to address the real problem.”
The group said it wasn’t clear whether the proposed database would allow for the identification of police officers with long histories of misconduct.