In the aftermath of Republican National Convention, civil rights groups blasted the NYPD for detaining protesters at Pier 57, a facility with known health and safety hazards. But as the lawsuits pile up, Councilmember Margarita Lopez is taking another tack—trying to change the system.
She’s drafted legislation, supported by five other council members, to expand the jurisdiction of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the agency that investigates police misconduct. She hopes to implement a level of oversight for the entire NYPD, including its Commissioner.
For nearly two months, Lopez’s attempts to determine who picked Pier 57 as a holding facility have been stonewalled by the PD. But in a breakthrough last week, she released several documents obtained from the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT), the agency that maintains the facility. Environmental surveys from April and May of this year outlined several dangers at the pier, including the presence of asbestos and lead paint. She also obtained a written agreement signed July 28, 2004 from the HRPT acknowledging that the NYPD had inspected the pier and could “exclusively occupy” it from August 2 through September 7.
Lopez says these documents prove the PD had prior knowledge of the dangerous conditions and their failure to address them was a violation of the protesters civil rights. “No one individual is responsible,” she said. “It’s the policies at a higher level that were being put in place.”
Lopez and several of her colleagues asked the CCRB to investigate these charges, but the city’s Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo has claimed that the “CCRB does not have the authority to review any and all complaints against the Police Department and it’s members” saying that it holds the power to investigate only those against individual officers, not “institutional or environmental conditions.”
Councilmember Lopez and the National Lawyers Guild see it differently. “We believe the city has a responsibility to provide for people’s safety,” said Yetta Kurland, a member of the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing the protesters. “And they should allow the CCRB to have a broad discretionary ability to investigate the issue.”
Members of the CCRB say Lopez’ legislation would grant them authority to look into these larger issues. “We’re the keeper of the record,” said Raymond Patterson, director of communication and mediation for the CCRB. “We investigate complaints and recommend where we think an officer should be disciplined. We can give people an efficient, quick, thorough and fair investigation into their complaint. We’re not advocates for any one’s side… but we can guarantee a process, that you will be heard.”