Two years after the Civilian Complaint Review Board announced to fanfare that it would begin to investigate police sexual misconduct, the independent NYPD watchdog is starting the process anew.
On Monday, the board anounced it’s seeking public comment on proposed new rules that will enable it to probe sexual misconduct claims against police—such as inappropriate comments, sexual propositions, sexual humiliation, assault and rape.
“There is no question sexual misconduct is a gross abuse of police authority and New Yorkers need an investigatory body outside of the Police Department that can receive and investigate these allegations. It is my hope that the Board swiftly adopts these new rules and restarts this work on behalf of all New Yorkers,” CCRB Board Chair Fred Davie said in a statement.
The formal rulemaking became necessary following a lawsuit from the city’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, filed shortly after the board in 2018 adopted a resolution authorizing its own investigations of sexual misconduct.
This May, a state appeals court ruled the board “undisputedly did not follow the public vetting process required” to add sexual misconduct to the realm of its NYPD oversight. That decision immediately halted related cases already in the board’s hands.
The court decision also slowed the CCRB’s groundwork preparing for its staff to undertake investigations of serious sexual misconduct allegations against officers.
The PBA did not respond to requests for comment. Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives Endowment Association, said the CCRB’s proposal was a "blatant twisting of the Charter amendment" and "a dangerous power grab."
Following the 30-day public comment period, the CCRB plans to hold a virtual public hearing on the rules at its December 9th meeting. The board will then, at a later date, re-hold its vote to investigate sexual misconduct claims.
‘A Dangerous Period’
At the moment, those seeking to file a complaint alleging police sexual misconduct have to rely on the NYPD’s own Internal Affairs Bureau or on the city’s district attorneys to investigate.
“It’s going to be incredibly important for survivors to have somewhere other than the Police Department to file complaints that are related to sexual misconduct of police,” said Joo-Hyun Kang, the director of the advocacy group Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of groups advocating to solve discriminatory and abusive policing.
“It’s a dangerous period right now that we don’t have more governance in this city that’s willing to stand up to the NYPD and police unions,” Kang added.
Her group has been advocating for the full release of police misconduct records, which uniformed officer unions have been fighting to keep hidden from public view. Kang hopes such transparency will help empower survivors to come forward to file their own complaints.
Once the CCRB authorizes the new rules, it will resume investigating allegations of verbal sexual harassment, physical gestures, taking unwanted photos or videos, sexual humiliation, sexually motivated stops and sexual or romantic proposals by officers — all of which it had started pursuing in 2018.
Still in the works is a plan to ready the CCRB to undertake investigations of more serious allegations — including groping, assault, rape, on-duty sexual activity and “penetrative sexual contact.”
At recent monthly meetings, CCRB members have noted that they’re staffing up their Civilian Assistance Unit, training investigators in Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview techniques. They’ve also hired a sex crimes prosecutor to prepare for litigation before an NYPD judge.
Yet for the time being, the CCRB continues to pass serious sexual assault allegations on to the IAB and DAs without conducting its own review.
“I think it’s really important that an independent agency is going to be investigating those claims because we’re not really sure how effective IAB has been at it thus far,” Jennvine Wong, staff attorney with the Cop Accountability Project at the Legal Aid Society, said of Monday’s announcement.
Wong said advocates are pushing to take final decision-making power over discipline from the police commissioner and give it to a more independent entity.
“This is at least a positive step—that the CCRB jurisdiction can be expanded to investigate into these additional serious issues of misconduct,” Wong added.
A Bigger Problem
Since the CCRB began tracking sexual misconduct complaints in 2016, it has made 299 referrals to other authorities without launching its own investigations.
Between February 2018 and May 2020 alone, the CCRB made 158 referrals. Of them, 19 went to Bronx DA Darcel Clark; 23 to Kings County DA Eric Gonzalez; 15 to Manhattan DA Cy Vance; eight to the Queens DA, currently Melinda Katz; and three to Staten Island DA Michael McMahon, according to the CCRB.
Two of the referrals went to the Westchester County DA while the remaining 88 were sent to the NYPD’s IAB.
A spokesperson for the NYPD declined to disclose how many sexual misconduct cases IAB has received annually overall, saying in an email that the department does “not track data to that level of specificity.”
The CCRB separately from the referrals fielded some 217 sexual misconduct complaints from 2016 through May 2020, CCRB data provided to THE CITY and Gothamist shows. Of those 217, roughly 37% of those claims were for verbal sexual harassment, 25% for sexual humiliation and 23% over a sexual or romantic proposition, the figures show.
There have been 118 allegations against officers involving sexual misconduct claims between November 2016 and March 2020 in the database of CCRB cases released this summer by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Of those, 28 have been substantiated — meaning that CCRB staff found sufficient evidence that the alleged conduct likely took place.
Of all the sexual misconduct allegations CCRB has tracked in four years, more than half ended up “truncated,” an internal term meaning the case was closed because investigators couldn’t reach the complainant or the complainant withdrew an allegation.
Kang, of the police reform group, said the CCRB recommitting to sexual misconduct investigations would help survivors seek accountability with an entity besides the Police Department.
“Survivors of police sexual misconduct have wanted somewhere other than the NYPD to report complaints. And so this is a step in that direction,” Kang said.
This story was reported as a part of a collaboration between Gothamist/WNYC and THE CITY to report on police disciplinary records.