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The Civilian Complaint Review Board continues to do a disservice to the citizens of New York and police by giving credence to frivolous complaints. Case in point: Last year, a police lieutenant in Brooklyn responded to a 911 call involving a male resident of a homeless men’s shelter who was acting irrationally. When he saw the officers arrive, the resident fled the facility before he could be questioned.
A staff member told the lieutenant that he suspected the resident possessed packages of material that could be used in the construction of an explosive device. The staff presented what they found to the lieutenant who immediately recognized the items as bomb-making material.
The lieutenant immediately broadcast an alarm for officers on patrol to search the neighborhood for the resident, who was now suspected of a crime. The canvas was successful. Police officers searched and detained the man. Once on the scene, the lieutenant saw him continuing to act irrationally and determined that he should be removed to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. It is against NYPD rules to bring a mentally unstable individual to the station house, even if he or she is suspected of committing a crime.
CCRB became involved a month later when either the homeless man or someone on his behalf filed a complaint against the officers and the lieutenant. They were charged with abuse of authority because in CCRB’s opinion they “Forcibly removed the homeless man to the hospital,” despite the fact that New York State law authorizes police officers to make a judgment call to have a person involuntarily removed to a hospital in these situations. That provision was contained in a mayoral press release concerning Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to address the city’s homeless crisis and get help for those individuals suffering mental issues.
What makes this charge even more egregious is the fact that the lieutenant was right. In fact, when he was apprehended, the suspect was on parole for making terrorist threats to blow up a high school on Long Island. In addition, in most instances, unstable individuals are medicated and quickly released. In this case, the hospital kept the man in custody for an extended period of time. After an investigation by the feds, the suspect was charged in federal court under the terrorist provisions of the law regarding possession of the explosive materials and his intent to use them. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
A full year had passed between the incident and the final determination by the CCRB. At that point, knowing what they did, one would think CCRB would dismiss the charges against all of the officers involved. CCRB did so for the police officers, but the lieutenant who made the decision to have the man removed to the hospital was not completely exonerated. Instead, the CCRB concluded that it was “Unable to Determine” if the lieutenant broke the rules when he sent the suspect to the hospital.
While certainly better than a substantiated finding, when paired with the officers’ “Unfounded” determination, it could be interpreted that the lieutenant must have done something wrong, or he would have otherwise been cleared. Unfortunately, the charges now become part of the lieutenant’s permanent record.
The mayor appoints five members of the 15-person board and the police commissioner designates three. It appears that some of his own appointees are sabotaging his plans to provide care for individuals suffering severe mental illness by voting to prefer charges against police officers whenever they remove a mentally unstable person to the hospital against their will.
According to The City, a digital news platform, there were nearly 180,000 911 calls involving mentally ill persons in 2018, almost double the number from 2009. No doubt that number has increased since 2018.
Things will not get better if CCRB keeps discouraging police from doing their jobs.
Certainly, this could not have been what the current CCRB was created for in 1993 when it was established under the late Mayor David Dinkins.
Adams might take a lesson from George McClellan Jr., the son of Civil War General George McClellan and mayor of New York back in the early 1900’s. Back then, judges seemed to be siding with motorists over the law when deciding cases involving the newly created traffic regulations.
McClellan reminded the judges who appointed them to office. They got the message. Before long, the judges began to enforce the traffic regulations rather than let people drive hazardously along New York’s streets in whatever direction they wanted. In the end, New York City streets became much safer. That’s what New Yorkers still want today. A safe city.
Bernard Whalen is a former NYPD lieutenant and co-author of “The NYPD’s First Fifty Years” and “Case Files of the NYPD.”
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