History of the CCRB
The first steps towards creating what is now the Civilian
Complaint Review Board were taken in 1950, when a coalition
of eighteen organizations formed the "Permanent Coordination
Committee on Police and Minority Groups" to lobby the city
to deal with police misconduct in general, and "police misconduct
in their relations with Puerto Ricans and Negros specifically."*
In response to their demands, the New York City Police Department
established the Civilian Complaint Review Board in 1953 as
a committee of three deputy police commissioners to investigate
civilian complaints. While the board was granted wider authority
under Mayor Robert Wagner in 1955, it remained an organization
within the police department—the investigations were conducted
by police officers and the decision on whether or not to recommend
discipline was made by the deputy commissioners.
The Lindsay Plan
After his election in 1965, Mayor John Lindsay appointed former federal judge Lawrence E.
Walsh to investigate the operation of the police department and make suggestions for
improvement. While the bulk of Walsh's report focused on modernization, the report also argued that, in order to instill public confidence that investigations of civilian complaints were handled fairly, the board itself should have civilian representation.
Opposition to Lindsay
Lindsay formed a search committee, chaired by former Attorney General Herbert Brownell, to find civilians to serve on the board. John Cassese, the president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association (PBA), rigorously opposed a civilian presence on the board, stating "I'm sick and tired of giving in to minority groups with their whims and their gripes and shouting." The mayor's search committee found four candidates, whom the mayor appointed, and for the first time in the city's history, people outside the department oversaw the investigations of complaints against police officers.
A Crucial Vote
Lindsay's board did not last long. Cassese and the
PBA collected signatures to force a ballot measure to bar civilians
from having any oversight of police complaints. The ensuing campaign
was bitter on all sides; the PBA made appeals to safety and fear,
stating that with civilian oversight the police would not be able to do their job properly, and the forces in favor of civilian participation painted their opponents as bigots and racists. The ballot measure won overwhelmingly, and the board returned to its previous all-police makeup.
Civilian Board Members
In 1987, in accordance with legislation passed in 1986 by the city council,
the board was restructured as one where private citizens served alongside
non-uniformed police officers; six were appointed by the mayor (with the
advice and consent of city council) and six were appointed by the police
commissioner. At this time, the Civilian Complaint Investigations Bureau
began to hire civilians to investigate complaints, though these civilians
served alongside police department investigators and were supervised by
Tompkins Square Park Incident
In 1988, an event helped sway public opinion
in favor of more civilian control over the investigation of
complaints made against NYPD officers. In response to complaints
of drug trafficking and disorderly groups in Tompkins Square
Park, the department chose to enforce an existing 1:00 a.m.
curfew that had previously not been enforced. A rally protesting
the curfew on July 31 turned into a confrontation with police
in which four people were arrested and four officers were
injured. On August 6, demonstrators were forced from the park
in a series of violent incidents between the police, demonstrators,
and bystanders. Video footage showed police officers striking
people with nightsticks, kicking people who were on the ground,
and covering their shields to hide their identity.
The CCRB commissioned a special report on the incident, concluding
that "there is no evidence that any effort was made to limit
the use of force. . . . Force was used for its own sake."
Even though the report was extremely critical of the NYPD,
the event itself galvanized support for an all-civilian review
All Civilian Agency
In 1993, after extensive debate
and public comment, Mayor David Dinkins and the New York City
Council created the Civilian Complaint Review Board in its
current, all-civilian form. The agency was granted subpoena
power (one issue cited in the Tompkins Square Park report
by the police department's CCRB was that without subpoena
power, it could not obtain filmed footage from local media
outlets) and authority to recommend discipline in cases that
the board substantiated. However, the agency was underfunded
at its inception, leaving it unable to cope with the large
number of complaints it received.
After the Abner Louima incident in 1997, the CCRB's budget was steadily increased, allowing the agency to hire dozens more investigators and experienced managers who oversee investigations. The new civilian investigators, led by the managers, have dramatically improved the agency performance. Now the largest civilian oversight agency in the country, the CCRB has investigated thousands of complaints, leading to discipline for hundreds of police officers. The CCRB remains dedicated to its core mission of thoroughly and impartially investigating all complaints it receives.
All information on the CCRB during the Lindsay years is drawn
from Vincent J. Cannato's The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay
and His Struggle to Save New York, 155-188 (2001). Incidental
quotes in the section are in Cannato's text. [back]
Information on the Tompkins Square Park incident comes from
"The Tompkins Square Park Incident: An Interim Report from
the New York City Police Department's Civilian Complaint Review
Board" (1988), and the "Report of the Civilian Complaint Review
Board on the Disposition of Civilians' Complaints Arising
from Police Department Action Occurring at Tompkins Square
Park on August 6 - 7" (1988).