Not All Cops: Thousands of Officers are Immune From Civilian Complaints

Not All Cops: Thousands of Officers are Immune From Civilian Complaints
NYPD on Eastern Parkway. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

On January 8, Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) – the independent police oversight body that reviews civilian complaints against NYPD – held its meeting in Coney Island. It was flooded with questions from unhappy cabbies complaining about NYPD traffic agents.

Turns out, when drivers call #311 to complain about a sanction they feel is unjust they often get referred to the CCRB, even though most tickets are not issued by police on patrol (who fall under the CCRB’s jurisdiction) but by the 3,300 traffic enforcement agents – who do not.

NYPD Traffic enforcement agent via NYPD website

And they are not the only ones.

In 2018, the CCRB received and referred 5,912 complaints that fell outside of the agency’s jurisdiction (55% of the total complaints received), either due to the nature of the allegations within the complaint or due to the subject individual of the complaint, according to CCRB’s 2018 annual report. Of those, 420 complaints involved a civilian member of the NYPD, CCRB spokesperson Ethan Teicher confirmed.

Given the measures to expand CCRB oversight on the ballot last fall, it is surprising to realize that many of the NYPD officers that interact with some of the most vulnerable populations – minors/students and the homeless – on daily basis do not fall under civilian oversight.

So who exactly does the CCRB have and have not oversight over?

“The CCRB has jurisdiction over the approximately 36,000 Members of Service employed by the NYPD, but not the approximately 19,000 civilian employees,” CCRB spokesperson Ethan Teicher said, pointing to the NYC Charter that sets out how CCRB operates.

NYPD Auxiliary police. Via NYPD website.

Those almost 20,000 civilian employees at NYPD include:

  • Administrative staff
  • Police Communications Technicians (like those who answer 911 calls)
  • School Safety Agents – 5,000 individuals
  • Traffic Enforcement Agents – about 3,300 individuals
  • Crossing Guards – about 2,300

CCRB also does not have oversight over the about 4,200 members of the Auxiliary Police, members of which are all volunteers, and according to NYPD:

  • Patrol housing developments, residential, and commercial areas
  • Patrol subway entrances and stations
  • Maintain order at parades, festivals, street fairs, and other special events
  • Patrol houses of worship
  • Assist in crime prevention activities
  • Perform traffic control at motor vehicle accidents and fire scenes
  • Perform various other non-enforcement duties

Peace Officers, such as those providing security at the City’s Hospitals and colleges (HHC Police and CUNY Police jointly employ about 2,000 officers) are also not under the CCRB’s jurisdiction.

Department of Homeless Services employs about 800 peace officers that are not under CCRB oversight, even though these officers perform many of the same functions as NYPD in their jobs of patrolling shelter facilities, deal with a challenging and vulnerable population, and wear body cameras.

MTA Police / via MTA website

When it comes to the subways and the commuter trains, it gets more complicated. Because the officers of the MTA Police Department (789 plus the 500 to-be-hired officers per Governor Cuomo’s mandate) are state law enforcement officers, they do not fall under CCRB oversight, unlike their NYPD counterparts (about 2,500 officers).  MTA Police Department polices the Subway system alongside the NYPD, and also polices Metro-North and LIRR commuter trains and stations.

Port Authority Police Department, via its website.

Similarly, the 1,700 or so Port Authority Police Department officers that police the Port Authority’s properties like the  Bus Terminal, Path trains, bridges and tunnels, do not fall under CCRB.

It strikes us as odd, given how sensitive policing of children in schools is, that the about 5,000 School Safety Agents do not, and only the 200 or so School Safety Officers (as opposed to agents) – do fall under CCRB oversight.

One may also wonder if placard abuse or enforcement of traffic rules will ever be taken seriously as long as the NYPD Traffic Agents only look like cops, yet are not held accountable in the same way.

“The CCRB believes independent civilian oversight of law enforcement is important for all New Yorkers, and is willing to take part in any public discussion of its jurisdiction and resources if voters and their elected officials believe the CCRB’s mandate under the City Charter should be adjusted,” Teicher said when asked to comment on the fact that 1/3 of NYPD’s staff, including those serving vulnerable populations, does not fall under CCRB’s oversight.

“For security reasons, we do not give out staffing numbers for specific units,” NYPD said in response to our request about employment numbers for the various civilian units. “The NYPD has approximately 55,000 current employees.”