Police Complaint Board to Investigate Charges of Sexual Misconduct

Since its inception a quarter century ago, the independent city agency that investigates allegations of police abuse in New York City has done nothing more with complaints about sexual misconduct than send them to the Police Department. In the 18 months ending last June, 117 such allegations were funneled to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, where findings remain hidden and any discipline of officers is cloaked in administrative secrecy.

Now, however, as allegations about a wide spectrum of sexual misconduct — from inappropriate comments to workplace coercion to sexual abuse and rape — are roiling the country, the agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, has added a layer of oversight to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in policing.

In a board meeting on Wednesday it adopted a resolution from its staff to immediately investigate certain allegations of sexual misconduct by officers against civilians, such as lewd comments or gestures, snapping unwanted photographs or sexually humiliating or ticketing civilians if they rebuff flirtations like a blown kiss. The vote was unanimous, with three board members appointed by the police commissioner joining seven others appointed by the mayor or City Council.

Later, it hopes to broaden that mandate and select a group of specially trained, senior investigators to handle the most serious allegations, including rape, though not before it builds up a budget and some expertise in helping survivors of traumatic sexual violence by officers.

That next phase must be done carefully, to ensure that, “the procedures we put in place do not negatively impact the complainants and also don’t impact potential criminal investigations,” Jonathan Darche, the executive director of the board, told board members at the meeting.

In a memo outlining its rationale, the staff of the agency said there is little in the arena of abuse by sworn, armed law enforcement officers that “undermines society’s confidence in the police more than an officer who wields the badge as a tool of sexual intimidation and coercion.”

“Unfortunately,” it went on, “the question is not whether such misconduct occurs. Rather, C.C.R.B. must investigate how often it occurs and what can be done to stop it.”

Outside watchdogs of the New York City police immediately embraced the idea as necessary and long overdue. The C.C.R.B. was formed in 1993 with a mandate by the City Charter to investigate four types of misconduct allegations: force; abuse of authority; discourtesy; and offensive language. It said in its memo that allegations of sexual misconduct by officers fall clearly under its power to look into cases of officers abusing their authority, though some cases might also involve discourtesy, offensive language or force.

“If there’s any surprise here, it’s that the C.C.R.B. is only now getting to the point where it recognizes that sexual harassment by N.Y.P.D. officers is something the board has to be dealing with,” Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the board before its vote, in Lower Manhattan. “But I am glad you are confronting it now.”

For allegations of criminal sexual conduct, the board’s memo called for a new policy allowing the board to notify the appropriate district attorney’s office — a step beyond its current practice of only notifying the Internal Affairs Bureau — though it said the high burden of proof in such cases means prosecutors often cannot or will not pursue them.

Andrew Case, a lawyer who was a spokesman for the review board, said he worries “that if these cases, particularly forcible assaults, fall to C.C.R.B., then that would be a sign that D.A.s are not doing all they can to investigate truly criminal acts.”

New York state law does not explicitly forbid sexual contact between police officers and people in their custody, though it forbids such conduct by correction and parole officers. The New York State Assembly last week passed legislation to prevent police officers from escaping legal consequences of an alleged sexual assault by saying arrestees consented, and the State Senate is now considering the same measure. The New York City Council is also considering legislation that would make it a misdemeanor crime for police officers to have sexual contact with people in custody.

The 117 allegations of sexual misconduct the board referred to the Internal Affairs Bureau between January 2016 and June “included a variety of allegations, from catcalls and sexual propositions to unwanted touching and rape,” the memo said. It summarized three of them to provide a range of cases the board receives.

In one, a woman questioned by a Bronx detective in 2014, at a shooting scene, went on to repeatedly encounter the same man around the neighborhood “and recalled that he would regularly lick his lips and make lewd expressions toward her,” the board’s memo said. In 2016, as she was held in a station house jail cell on a driving charge, the same detective entered her cell and made a profane gesture and a reference to oral sex.

In another, a man alleged that an officer twice squeezed his genitals during a frisk last year that followed a street stop for jaywalking.

The Police Department declined to answer questions about any discipline handed down to officers in the 117 complaints referred to its Internal Affairs Bureau, how the cases were decided or what the complaints alleged. It said it would work with the review board to implement the new procedure.

For all review board referrals to the Internal Affairs Bureau, “a huge issue” is that the police “don’t tell us what happens with any of them,” Mr. Case said. “One of the things this speaks to, a broader issue, is reporting from I.A.B. to C.C.R.B. about all referrals.”

 , “Police Complaint Board to Investigate Charges of Sexual Misconduct”, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/14/nyregion/ccrb-sexual-misconduct-police.html


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