Sen. Brian Benjamin’s bill would grant CCRB greater access to NYPD records
ALBANY ― State Sen. Brian Benjamin wants to give the civilian watchdog group that investigates police misconduct more power to review records the NYPD deems off-limits.
The Harlem Democrat, currently running for city comptroller, is pitching a bill that would allow the Civilian Complaint Review Board access to sealed and protected records as part of their investigations and disciplinary proceedings.
Benjamin said the legislation, which will be introduced Friday, would prevent police departments from putting up unnecessary roadblocks that stifle oversight.
“The CCRB was created in order to investigate complaints of police misconduct. How can they adequately investigate that misconduct, or potential misconduct, if they don’t have access to sealed records where a lot of that information may be buried,” he said.
As an example, Benjamin notes that the reasons for the issuance of a search or arrest warrant is sealed, in part to protect police methods and confidential informants.
However, if erroneous or false information is used to produce the warrant and an officer is accused of misconduct, no one will ever know since the records are off-limits to the CCRB. He also pointed to situations where a wrong address is put on a warrant.
He says the underlying information could be crucial when the CCRB is weighing allegations against an officer.
Law enforcement officials have also claimed that records related to family court cannot be shared with civilian review boards. The bill clarifies that only the family court’s records are private, not external records in the possession of family court.
“We need a transparent system that is confidential but allows for the truth to come out,” Benjamin said. “You can’t have true accountability without transparency and that’s what this bill ultimately helps to facilitate.”
During a board meeting Wednesday, CCRB chairman Frederick Davie said he remains hopeful state lawmakers will do more to assist in holding departments accountable in the wake of recent events, including the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
“We remain focused on petitioning state lawmakers for binding disciplinary authority in our cases, for greater access to evidence and for exemptions from state sealing statutes,” Davie said.
He added that the board needs access to off-limits records to conform to a new legal mandate from the City Council tasking the watchdog group with probing racial profiling within the NYPD and patterns of bias policing.
“For us to achieve this mandate we absolutely must be exempted from these sealing statutes,” he said. “Racial profiling investigations and inquiries into patterns of bias are extremely important and have to be taken seriously.
“Our lack of access to information should raise serious concerns about the CCRB’s ability to investigate racial profiling to the best of our ability,” he added.