By David Cruz
Today, by executive order, Mayor Ras Baraka established the city’s first Civilian Complaint Review Board.
“We’re here today because people can get shot eight times in the back as they run unarmed away from the police,” he said. “We’re here because people can be choked to death in the street while saying that they can’t breathe.”
Baraka says the CCRB is being created to avoid more cases like these, but also as a way to codify checks and balances within a system that has none, protecting bad cops at the expense of good ones.
“It is a systemic problem that at best covers up bad acts, and at worst, defends bad acts, and so it’s important for us to create an environment where the community has redress,” he said.
The CCRB will be made up of three city council members, the city’s inspector general and five members from the city’s leading community based organizations, appointed by the mayor. Their decisions will be subject to approval by the city’s police director, which has given pause to some who fear it gives one person authority.
“His decision will have to based on the findings of the CCRB with very few exceptions for clear error and will be bound on a disciplinary matrix that will be pre-negotiated between the city, the police department and the police union, in consultation with the CCRB,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU-NJ, which will have a member on the board.
Superior Officers’ Association president John Chrystal says the union supports the idea of a Civilian Complaint Review Board, but has had a hard time getting the mayor to the negotiating table.
“These matters, according to state labor laws: It says any promulgation of new laws or modification of existing laws shall be negotiated with the majority representative, so this is a mandatory topic of negotiation,” he said. “With previous administrations, we’ve negotiated, worked out our differences by negotiating agreements. This administration refuses to negotiate with us.”
“We need one police officer, one police union representative to have the courage top get up and say these things are wrong and that we need to reform the police department,” countered Baraka. “This is something we have to do and we have to do it now.”
Barring a legal challenge from the police union, the mayor says he’s going ahead with establishing what he calls a matrix for disciplinary action and selecting and training members for the board, all of which he says will be done in consultation with the union, without whom the spirit, if not the letter, of this new board, will be difficult to uphold.