How to File a Complaint Against the Police

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Only 8 percent of civilian complaints against the police are substantiated.

Photo by: Rich Summers

Only 8 percent of civilian complaints against the police are substantiated.

New York City’s 35,000-officer police force works every day to protect New Yorkers and solve crimes. The power a police officer is given to maintain public safety can sometimes be misused. If you think an officer is abusing her power or using excessive force, then you can contact the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, is an independent agency that allows civilians to make official complaints against New York City police officers. The CCRB investigates allegations of excessive force, abuse of authority, discourtesy and offensive language. The CCRB is separate from the New York Police Department, but the board’s decisions—and, in some cases, recommendations for disciplinary measures ranging from instruction to removal from the force—are sent directly to the police commissioner, who makes a final decision on what (if any) action to take against an officer.

To file a complaint with the CCRB you can call the board at 1-800-341-2272, fill out an online complaint form, write a letter or visit the board at 40 Rector Street, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10006. You can also file a complaint in person at any police prescient, which will forward your complaint to the CCRB.

Anyone who has information about police misconduct can file a complaint with the CCRB, whether or not you were the victim. There are no age requirements to make a complaint. The CCRB is also able to accept complaints in any language. You are still able to file complaints if you have been incarcerated. The CCRB only asks that you come forward as soon as possible, as disciplinary measures can only be issued within 18 months of the incident.

After you first contact the board with your complaint, an investigator will be assigned to your case and contact you. The investigator will meet with you and ask for any information you have on the date, time and location of the incident, as well as the identities of potential witnesses and anything else you think may help their investigation.

You do have the option of filing anonymously, but your investigator will need to know how to contact you. The officer who you file against will not be told who complained about them, but they will be asked about the incident you complain about. Retaliation should not be a concern, as officers are required to cooperate with investigations.

You do not need to know the officer’s name or badge number to make a complaint. Investigators can usually use basic information about the time and location to identify the officer; in such a case, investigators may call on you to view pictures of officers.

After your first interview, the investigator will conduct interviews with witnesses and the officer involved. They will also review documentary evidence from the police department, medical facilities and commercial establishments near the scene of the incident. As more information is uncovered, investigators may call you or other witnesses for follow-up interviews.

Throughout the investigation, you will be able to contact your investigator to check in on the status of the case. The board encourages you to notify your investigator if any of your contact information changes. If the investigator needs to bring you in for further information, then it is crucial that they be able to reach you.

After the investigation is completed it is forwarded to a panel of three board members who vote on the outcome of the case. If there is sufficient evidence that the officer committed the alleged actions, then the case will be considered “substantiated” and sent to the police commissioner with recommendations for disciplinary actions. If the officer is found to have not committed the act of misconduct, then the case will be closed as “unfounded.” Your investigator will notify you of the board’s ruling.

In some cases the CCRB is unable to conclude their investigation. If there is a lack of sufficient evidence, then the case is closed as “unsubstantiated,” and no disciplinary measures can be taken. Investigations can also be ended early if the officer leaves the force, or if the investigator loses contact with the person filing the complaint.

In 2011, the CCRB received 5,966 complaints within its jurisdiction. From those complaints, 1,926 full investigations were completed, of which 8 percent were substantiated. Although only substantiated cases lead to disciplinary action, all complaints filed against an officer are put on their permanent record.

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