The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) has been taking longer and longer to investigate police misconduct — in part because of delays by the police department in sharing evidence — and lacks the systems in place to move lagging probes along, according to a new audit.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office reviewed investigations closed by the CCRB between January 2018 and June 2021 and found that the average length of fully-investigated cases more than doubled over that period — from just under seven months to more than 14 months.
And according to the latest Mayor’s Management Report, CCRB probes took even longer in the year following the period under review by the state comptroller — hitting an average of 591 days to closure through June 2022.
That’s more than 19 months, an average in excess of the 18-month statute of limitations from the date of a complaint that the CCRB, which investigates misconduct that stems from interactions between police and civilians, has to bring charges against an NYPD member in order for discipline to be a possible outcome.
The state comptroller’s review does not say how many cases, if any, that could have yielded discipline were closed because the statute of limitations had passed.
“The CCRB has a vital role to play in independent oversight, but it’s unreasonable New Yorkers may wait over a year for their complaints to be investigated,” said DiNapoli. “I urge the board to work more closely with the NYPD and to take steps to ensure that complaints get resolved without the prolonged delays that my office’s audit identified.”
The report noted that the statute of limitations was “temporarily suspended” through November 2020 during the COVID pandemic. It also said the CCRB has an internal goal of closing cases within 90 days, but that even CCRB officials have admitted that the timeline is unrealistic — without bothering to set a new one.
In a letter responding to the audit, CCRB Executive Director Jonathan Darche cited impediments caused by the COVID-19 pandemic for drawing out investigations, such as challenges in conducting in-person interviews, but blamed the bulk of delays on getting critical evidence from the NYPD.
“As the report correctly points out, extended investigation times are largely due to delays in receiving records from the NYPD,” Darche wrote on August 17.
He noted that the CCRB was forced this year to dedicate seven of its staffers to help secure documents and other evidence from the NYPD — including a five-unit team dubbed the “NYPD Documents Unit.” Another staffer is dedicated solely to tracking requests for body-worn camera footage from the police department.
An NYPD spokesperson told THE CITY that many of the concerns highlighted in the audit — which goes through June 2021 — have since been resolved.
“The department’s document production capabilities significantly expanded over that time, and BWC [body-worn camera] footage to CCRB is prioritized and provided expeditiously — so much so that CCRB acknowledged these improvements in its last semi-annual report,” said the spokesperson. “The Department will continue to make tremendous efforts to provide all footage and records that the CCRB needs to conduct its investigations – and it is our hope that the CCRB examines its own processes to ensure the efficiency of its operations.”
Among the greatest challenges the CCRB has faced in obtaining evidence from the NYPD in recent years has been the review of footage from body-worn cameras, devices that were distributed to nearly 20,000 officers by March 2019.
Within four months, the board began talking publicly about how its investigators were blocked from obtaining footage in a timely manner.
Those initial complaints led to a memo of understanding between the CCRB and NYPD in November 2019 that was supposed to speed the process along.
But as reported by ProPublica in June 2020, the delays only grew worse. An internal CCRB memo obtained by the publication noted that 1,137 requests for camera footage were pending with the NYPD — of which 40% were older than 90 days.
NYPD officials said at the time that they had recently provided the CCRB more than 700 of those videos, clearing much of the backlog.
The latest CCRB numbers show a significant improvement, but still finds that 28% of the agency’s pending body worn camera requests — out of 103 — are older than 90 days.
The importance of the technology in confirming allegations is underscored by recent agency data.
In April, the CCRB substantiated findings in 67% of the 335 cases closed that month that included body-worn camera footage.
That same month, by comparison, the agency substantiated findings in just 5 of the 30 cases closed without body-worn camera footage.
Footage is also helpful in clearing officers of false allegations, the data show.
The comptroller’s office also found other examples of slow evidence transfers that contributed to the CCRB’s delays in closing cases.
In one case reviewed in the audit, it took the NYPD nearly 14 months to provide a case file from its division that investigates serious uses of force, and in another it took more than six months to provide a Taser use report to the CCRB.
In a third case the NYPD took more than four months to provide an officer’s memo book, which contained documentation regarding an incident, the audit found.
The police spokesperson called those cases “outliers,” noting that some requests from the CCRB are voluminous or fail to identify an officer.
“The NYPD works diligently to provide CCRB with requested documents,” the spokesperson said. “This year, we have received 8,642 requests for documents from the CCRB and 8,592 have been completely fulfilled.”
Impact on Discipline
The delays in closing investigations are only one piece of the often lengthy process of getting to a disciplinary outcome in cases of alleged police misconduct — which includes preparations for an administrative trial (including negotiating settlement), getting a trial decision, and then a final conclusion from the police commissioner.
Mayor Eric Adams has said that he’s interested in solving the long-running issue, and in July said he’d been given a flowchart of the disciplinary process by Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell in a bid to identify the worst areas of logjam.
Adams has yet to provide an update on the status of that review.
THE CITY recently highlighted the case of an NYPD officer who accumulated 52 pending CCRB charges of serious misconduct against him, the most of any active police employee at the time.
While the eight incidents that sparked those complaints against Lt. Eric Dym occurred between November 2018 and June 2020, five of the cases didn’t reach a disciplinary outcome until last month. Those five cases resulted in Dym’s loss of 64 vacation days.
But the 18-year NYPD veteran evaded penalties in the three remaining cases by filing for retirement before prosecutors were ready to proceed, leaving the CCRB to close them without a disciplinary outcome, agency officials told THE CITY at the time.
Dym’s lawyer defended what critics described as an aggressive policing style, previously telling THE CITY that Dym took the “necessary” actions to keep public housing residents in The Bronx safe from crime.