Suffice it to say, public trust in New York’s Finest, aka the New York Police Department, is not at an all time high. With perpetually upsetting stop and frisk data, and—here and across the country—police officers killing 90 unarmed Americans in 2015 alone (and nearly 1,000 people total), police departments are not doing a fantastic job of inspiring public trust.
To put it lightly, these behaviors are upsetting, especially when one feels powerless to do anything about any of it. But what if you catch—and record—a police officer acting incredibly poorly in public? You should be able to submit a complaint about said upsetting behavior to an agency that protects your identity (and your person), right? Well, Gothamist tells us, this is in fact not true.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board is the independent city agency that takes complaints regarding bad officer behavior and, in turn, Gothamist reports, the officers in question will receive the identity of the person who delivered the complaint. Fine—if, for example, a comprehensive system is in place that protects individuals from police retaliation; but this is also not true. Between 2008 and 2012 (more recent statistics are not available), CCRB substantiated 1,708 cases of “abuse of authority allegations… notably retaliatory summons allegations,” which they substantiated 55 percent of the time, as well as arrest allegations, which they substantiated 44 percent of the time.
Gothamist surfaced the story after one woman, Kari Paul, overheard (and recorded) three police officers having a particularly upsetting conversation about Muslims on the L train on December 7. According to Paul and to a muffled audio recording, these officers said incredibly bad things about Muslims moving into a particular Brooklyn neighborhood. Some of the (lowest) highlights include:
“Well if [Muslims] don’t like Christmas lights, then they can go back to the fucking cave they came from in the Middle East.”
“I heard they were mad about his dogs too, they don’t like dogs… Yeah, I’d let my dog shit in their yard on purpose.”
Gothamist noted, “All three officers were in uniform, and all three were white.”
Paul jotted down the badge numbers and successfully captured an audio clip on her phone. But when she got in touch with the Civilian Complaint Review Board—and representatives told her 24 hours later that her identity would not be kept from the police officers in questions—Paul decide not to move forward with her complaint.
While CCRB writes on its website that incidents of summons or arrest retaliations are extremely rare—and they also confirmed that only the name, not the address of the complainant is revealed—this frequency is not backed up by their official statistics that, again, include more than 1,000 incidents of police retaliation (a number that is sure to increase with statistics between 2012 and 2015).
The associate legal director at NYCLU said that while officers should be able to defend themselves against individuals making specific claims, he also conceded the need for far better protection against police retaliation by CCRB—which is not a system currently in place.
As for NYPD themselves, a representative told Gothamist that retaliation statistics “could be recorded somewhere, but we’re not sure where,” even though, Sergeant Jeffrey Ahn added, “Do we get complaints? I’m sure we have.”
None of this inspires an ounce more of trust from an agency that, at this particular moment, needs it quite badly. There is also an inherent double standard on NYPD’s own FAQ webpage.
“Must an individual identify themselves to report an allegation?”
“No, an individual need not identity themselves in order to report an allegation. However, if not identified that individual must understand they cannot be contacted by the investigative unit for further information.”
This, of course, sounds reasonable—under the assumption that the agency that handles complaints against criminal conduct (NYPD) would want to protect individuals against criminal retaliation. But a civilian who wants to submit a similar complaint against a member of the same agency that is charged to protect them should, in no successfully operating reality, be fearful of similar retaliation.
Unfortunately, we are learning over and over, this turns out more often than not to be untrue.