Police watchdog defends agency over controversial report on stun guns

Responding to questions raised in the press and by elected officials, the head of the board that investigates accusations of police misconduct denied that City Hall or any other agency rewrites reports before they are published.

“[U]nder the leadership of this Board, the Agency is the sole author and editor of its reports,” Maya Wiley, chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, wrote to Councilman Dan Garodnick in a Feb. 2 letter shared with POLITICO New York.

Wiley’s letter came in response to a Jan. 30 letter from Garodnick to the board, asking about the role City Hall played in shaping a report the board released in December about the NYPD's use of Taser stun guns. According to a Dec. 26 report in The New York Times, recommendations in the final report were diluted after input from City Hall and the NYPD.

The spat comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio heads into his re-election season, relying heavily on his success in keeping crime at historic lows.

But the mayor also is facing criticism from some police reform activists who say he has not lived up the lofty rhetoric of his 2013 campaign, when he vowed to change the culture of the NYPD, reduce the racial disparity of some police enforcement, and swiftly punish officers who misbehave.

On Wednesday, the Times published a scathing op-ed from a Bronx mother whose son was killed in a police shooting in 2012. She accused de Blasio of turning his back on her after taking office.

In his letter, Garodnick charged that the report "was moderated by the influence of City Hall and the NYPD.” He cited several changes between the draft and final report, including a finding that a majority of cases reviewed by the CCRB showed that stun guns were used on people who were unarmed, and a recommended ban on using stun guns on people in handcuffs.

Garodnick said the report “call[s] into question one of the key reasons for the CCRB’s existence — its independence.”

Wiley strongly disputed that characterization. In her letter, she noted that none of the facts in the report was altered, and that the report was based on a “data set” that was “extremely small.” One hundred and fifty-three complaints were identified; 85 could not be fully investigated, leaving the board to make recommendations based on just “51 fully investigated complaints.”

Wiely, who left her job as counsel to the mayor and joined the CCRB in July, downplayed the significance of sharing the report with City Hall before its final release. It is, she noted, “a common practice for other oversight entities,” including a court-appointed monitor and the Department of Investigation’s Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD.

In response to Wiley's letter, Garodnick said, "Circulating early drafts to an agency under investigation may be a courtesy, but it should not result in changes in recommendations or the issues emphasized." He also said the oversight agency "is nothing without its ability to independently evaluate police conduct, and needs to project that independence in both form and substance."

Oversight of the city's police force has led to controversy and tension during de Blasio's term. His first pick to run the CCRB, civil rights attorney Richard Emery, was forced to resign after a series of controversies.

De Blasio’s former police commissioner, Bill Bratton, routinely clashed with and criticized the work of the inspector general's office assigned to monitor the department. Creation of an inspector general for the NYPD was a key part of de Blasio’s public safety agenda in his 2013 mayoral campaign.

You can read Garodnick's letter to the CCRB, here, and Wiley's response, here.