NYPD Oversight Board May Halt Probes of Biased Policing Over Lack of Funding
Civilian Complaint Review Board interim chair Arva Rice said Wednesday that a new unit launched in October to investigate racial profiling and police bias won’t have enough funds to operate past June under the mayor’s proposed budget.
The head of a city police oversight agency says it will be forced to abandon a new unit assigned to investigate complaints of biased policing and racial profiling by members of the NYPD because its proposed budget won’t cover the cost.
Civilian Complaint Review Board interim chair Arva Rice said at the board’s monthly public meeting in Brooklyn Wednesday evening that absent additional funds in the coming fiscal year, the board would resume referring such cases for investigation by the NYPD.
“Based on the proposed budget, the agency intends to resume referring profiling allegations to the police department at the end of the fiscal year,” said Rice.
“This is not a decision made in haste, but this agency owes the people of this city an honest assessment of our ability to do the work,” she added. “The agency is hopeful that this circumstance will change so we do not have to take this step.”
The agency’s warning comes as elected officials have expressed wider concerns about the staffing and functioning of police oversight entities under Mayor Eric Adams — including that of the NYPD Inspector General, which has been without a permanent leader for more than a year.
The CCRB has long had a mandate to investigate allegations of wrongful force, abuse of authority, offensive language and discourtesy by police personnel and to recommend disciplinary action in response.
In March 2021, the City Council expanded its reach to cover civilian complaints of racial profiling and biased policing — based on factors such as race, religion and housing status — sparked by concerns about the NYPD’s commitment to investigate such cases.
The Council estimated at the time that the agency would require nearly $4 million in additional funding to staff 57 positions at the biased policing and racial profiling unit, which was set up to probe emerging complaints and also to review the historical conduct of officers whose behavior raised concerns about biased policing.
But the CCRB’s entire budget for Fiscal Year 2024, beginning July 1, was pegged at $22.4 million in the preliminary budget released by Mayor Eric Adams a few months ago. That’s down nearly $1 million from the current fiscal year, and only about $2 million more than when the legislation was passed.
Rice said the proposed funding won’t be sufficient for the unit — which launched in October with 13 staffers — to operate past June.
Earlier this month, the mayor’s executive budget proposed adding about $900,000 to the CCRB for FY 2024 to cover collective bargaining increases to salaries and benefits.
The City Council has signaled it may push back in its budget negotiations with Adams, which must be concluded by June 30. In its written response to the mayor’s initial budget proposal, the Council called for boosting the agency’s budget far more significantly, by a total of $8 million, to push its staff headcount to 329.
“CCRB has encountered roadblocks to reaching their full capacity as a result of a hiring freeze and recent cuts to its budget,” said the Council’s response. “The Office of Management and Budget must right-size the CCRB budget to support hiring for all vacancies at the necessary salary levels.”
Mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy noted that the CCRB was not required to implement a full 4% cut in the executive budget proposed last month and was exempted from a program that eliminated vacant positions at some agencies in January.
Levy also said the agency is funded above what’s required by city charter — which sets the CCRB’s staffing level relative to that of the police department.
“While every agency was asked to achieve savings in response to fiscal and economic conditions — including more than $4 billion in migrant costs by next year, funding labor settlements, and potential cuts and cost shifts from the state — we are confident these agencies have the sufficient resources to fulfill their missions and continue delivering services to New Yorkers every day,” he said.
Kobel Investigation Pushes the Issue
The NYPD didn’t separately track or investigate complaints of biased policing until 2014, after it was ordered to do so by the federal judge who found the department’s stop, question and frisk practices had unconstitutionally discriminated against Black and Latino people.
Little information was publicly available on how those probes were going until the city Department of Investigation made a startling revelation in 2019: The NYPD had not substantiated a single complaint alleging biased policing in 1,918 cases its investigators had closed.
The DOI report released that June first proposed the idea of moving such probes to the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
“CCRB should adopt a policy to investigate allegations of biased policing by uniformed members of NYPD under its ‘Abuse of Authority’ jurisdiction, instead of the current practice of forwarding all such allegations to NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau,” the report said.
More than a year later, in November 2020, the City Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations identified hateful remarks posted online by a top NYPD official tasked with promoting equity and inclusion — which prompted the Council to take a closer look at the NYPD’s handling of investigations of biased policing.
The Council’s probe of then-Deputy Inspector James Kobel, commanding officer of the NYPD’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, found that he had made numerous inappropriate posts on an online police forum that were “racist, misogynistic, antisemitic, and homophobic.”
Kobel, who denied wrongdoing, was fired by the NYPD in February 2021 after the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau came to the same conclusion as the Council.
That month, then-City Council member Vanessa Gibson (D-The Bronx) introduced legislation to move investigations of biased policing out of the NYPD and into the Commission on Human Rights. The legislation was subsequently amended to put the CCRB in charge.
At a committee vote on the measure in March 2021, Gibson — now the Bronx Borough President — cited the Kobel case as the primary motivation for the legislation.
“The revelations that we uncovered about former Deputy Inspector and the EEO Commanding Officer James Kobel’s grossly offensive online post were not only disturbing in and of themselves, but also raised serious questions about the NYPD’s ability to police itself when it comes to instances of troubling racist and other hateful words and behavior,” Gibson said at the time.
The full Council approved the legislation later that same day and the measure became law a month later when it was returned unsigned by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio.
High Hopes, Too Few Staffers
In September 2021, the CCRB announced that it had tapped the lead attorney in the federal class action lawsuit challenging the city’s stop and frisk practices during the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, civil rights attorney Darius Charney, to head its new unit.
In Council budget testimony the following year, Rice told the Council that the unit’s work was more important than ever given Adams’ intent to reconstitute anti-crime units that had been disbanded in June 2020 over their heavy-handed and often aggressive policing.
Rice also cited Adams’ support for stop and frisk, which he had said is a useful tactic when employed correctly.
“While these are legal tactics when used properly, they have been abused in the past, and the people of New York need to know that there is sufficient oversight in place to address any incidents of misconduct,” Rice testified.
In October 2022, Charney told the CCRB that the Racial Profiling/Biased Policing Investigations Unit was preparing to launch with 14 staffers, despite being originally funded for 33 positions.
Within six months, the unit had 154 open investigations, according to Rice, but was down to just 13 staffers.
As THE CITY has reported, the CCRB’s challenges have been mirrored at another police oversight agency, the DOI’s Inspector General.
Last month, Council Oversight and Investigations Committee Chair Gale Brewer penned a letter to DOI Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber — whose tenure began in January 2022 — expressing “major concerns” about the operations of the IG’s office.
Brewer pointed to understaffing, a significant reduction in the production of public reports, and the lack of a permanent director as several of her concerns.
“The OIG-NYPD’s work seems to have been stalled and undermined during the current mayoral administration,” Brewer wrote in an April 18 letter obtained by THE CITY. “The diminished capacity of this important office is deeply problematic and leaves New Yorkers without the confidence of effective policy oversight and accountability.”
DOI spokesperson Diane Struzzi said agency officials are planning to meet with Brewer to discuss her concerns.
“Since taking office last year, DOI Commissioner Strauber recognized that the OIG-NYPD’s productivity needed to increase and she has worked to accomplish that goal,” said Struzzi. “That effort has yielded the publication of five reports so far under her tenure, including three this year with more to come.”