01/30/2001

Civilian board is given more say in cop trials
[New York, NY]

By John Marzulli Daily News police bureau chief with Frank Lombardi January 27, 2001, Saturday Racing Final Edition Copyright 2001 Daily News, L.P. Daily News (New York) January 27, 2001, Saturday Racing Final Edition

(New York) -- In a dramatic reform of police discipline, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hire lawyers to prosecute misconduct cases against cops - removing the NYPD from the trial process, city officials announced yesterday. Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said the new system would eliminate the perception among cops and the public that the disciplinary system is a "kangaroo court."

"There's a lot of negativity out there because we do our own internal trials," Kerik said. "I think at some point we have to try and clear it up."

Under the current system, when the review board substantiates allegations of excessive force, abuse of authority, rudeness or offensive language, the case is forwarded to NYPD prosecutors, who prepare charges or negotiate plea bargains.

If the cop fights the charge, an NYPD lawyer - often a police officer with a law degree - tries the case before a judge at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, which then renders a decision.

When the new system is in place, a review board lawyer will try the case at OATH. The police commissioner retains final authority over whether to accept or overrule the decision.

Cases of serious misconduct and corruption still will be handled by NYPD lawyers in department hearings run by deputy commissioners. Kerik, however, is considering turning these cases over to OATH, too.

The mayor's Commission to Combat Corruption pitched the new system last year. Former top cop Howard Safir did not act on the proposal.

Reaction to the plan was mixed.

Norman Siegel, on leave from the New York Civil Liberties Union, said: "The mayor finally got it right. Police lawyers prosecuting police officers is a conflict."

But Hugh Mo, a former NYPD trial commissioner from 1984 to 1988, blasted it as a "copout" and "irresponsible."

"This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater," Mo said. "It's avoiding responsibility of dealing with the perception problem. You just create a new set of gripes."

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said details of the plan are too sketchy for him to judge how it will work.

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