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CCRB comes to Jamaica

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Mayor Rudolph Giuliani proposed turning the prosecution...

By Betsy Scheinbart

The Civilian Complaint Review Board heard allegations of police misconduct from southern Queens’ residents April 11, the same day the board gained the power to prosecute officers they investigate.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani proposed turning the prosecution of police officers over to the board in January, and the measure was approved by the board April 11. The police commissioner will remain in charge of disciplining the officer if the complaint is substantiated by the board.

The board is composed of five mayoral appointees, five city council designees and three police commissioner appointees. Three of the 13 members are former police officers and seven are lawyers.

Patricia Jones, a Cambria Heights resident and Peggy Thomas, the resident adviser for the Hammel Public Housing Development in Rockaway Beach, were among those who took the microphone at York College in Jamaica to tell their stories of alleged police misconduct.

Jones told the chilling story of how she and her sister and a family friend were surrounded by police and arrested on Manhattan’s Riverside Drive when they were on the way to make arrangements for Jones’ mother’s funeral about two years ago.

Jones filed a complaint with the CCRB, and she and her sister and family friend were repeatedly interviewed, but she was never told of any resolution to the case.

Charles Greinsky, a member of the board, told Jones the statute of limitation for a complaint brought to the CCRB is 18 months, and her case has probably met that deadline.

Thomas said her son was harassed and handcuffed in the lobby of her building a few years ago. He was given a ticket for loitering while he was getting his mail, Thomas said.

She said this incident dissuaded both her sons from becoming police officers.

Thomas contended the police racially profile the residents of her building, bothering good working citizens like her son and ignoring the drug dealers who “get away with murder.”

“They are never there when you need them for a crime,” she said of the police, “but they are always there when you don’t need them.”

Thomas said she and her neighbors believe reporting incidents to the CCRB is a waste of time because none of them have received word on the status of their previous complaints.

Frank Wohl, the chairman of the CCRB, emphasized the importance of reporting every incident because several complaints against a single police officer work as evidence against that officer.

The board employs 129 investigators who determine whether there is sufficient evidence that the officer engaged in misconduct. Punishment of these officers can include forfeiture of up to 10 days’ vacation, or a formal trial, which could lead to removal from the Police Department.

Wohl said that in 1999 70 percent of the cases against officers were resolved by disciplining the officer. In 2000, that figure jumped to 90 percent, although not all the case have been resolved yet.

City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), the chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, sponsored and helped draft the 1993 law that brought the CCRB into existence. Leffler emphasized the importance of keeping the CCRB independent from the Police Department and recommend that no board members be appointed directly from the Police Department.

Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president who is running for mayor, introduced legislation to change the law that established the agency to include the power of prosecution.

“Reforms this critical ought to be implemented at the behest of the mayor and his police commissioner, but must be done and protected by local law,” Ferrer said.

By holding the meeting in Jamaica, Wohl said the board wanted to address the concerns of one of the communities that files a substantial number of complaints with the board.

The board’s most recent status report, issued in March, showed the majority of complaints issued citywide against the police were issued by blacks.

In 2000, 52 percent of the complaints were filed by black people, who make up about 25 percent of the city’s population. In 1999, 53 percent of complainants were black.

The 113th Precinct, which covers the predominantly black neighborhood of South Jamaica, ranked highest in the city in the number of complaints per uniformed personnel in 1999.

Leroy Gadsden, the chairman of the Police, Community Relations Committee of the Jamaica Branch National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he appreciated the CCRB’s work thus far, but work still needs to be done to dissolve the community’s mistrust of the board.

Gadsden’s main concern was with the availability of complain forms outside the police precinct.

“It is contradictory to ask a man who has just gotten beaten up by the police to go back to the Police Department to get a complaint form,” Gadsden said.

Board members said complaint forms are available at emergency rooms and community boards and can be obtained by calling 1-800-341-CCRB, but they said more outreach needs to be done.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

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