INWOOD — Representatives from the city's police misconduct monitoring agency met with leaders of Uptown's Dominican community to educate them about their rights and look for ways to improve relations between the community and the NYPD.
Yohaira Alvarez, community coordinator for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that investigates misconduct allegations, urged a host of nonprofit groups, community leaders and locals to consider the agency a partner in their work to bring concerns about police to resolution.
“As an agency, we treat all allegations as a priority, so folks can be confident in knowing that when we look into an allegation,” Alvarez told those present at Dyckman Express Restaurant on 101 Dyckman St. on Tuesday, adding that a CCRB investigation can take approximately 90 to 120 days to carry out before determining if a complaint is substantiated.
Alvarez said the process for residents to file a complaint is simple and can be done confidentially, although the identity of the person who files the complaint is not guaranteed to remain confidential throughout the duration of the investigation.
Once a complaint against an officer is filed, the CCRB places it into one of four main categories: force, abuse of authority, discourtesy and offensive language, she said.
Alvarez said force is defined as excessive or unnecessary force, such as punching, using a Taser or pulling out a gun.
Abuse of authority includes an improper stop and search, entering a house without a warrant and refusal to provide name and badge number, she said.
The discourtesy allegations, Alvarez said, could include any use of profanity, using the middle finger, or “if a police officer asks for my ID, and then throws it down.”
Offensive language specifically refers to language that inappropriately refers to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, physical disability or legal status, Alvarez said.
She said that it's important for individuals to document police misconduct to ensure that the incidents are recorded for the future.
“Every complaint remains in the record of the police [officer] permanently," Alvarez said, adding that after a complaint is submitted, the CCRB has the authority to demand all evidence, video and information pertaining to what happened.
CCRB also reports the number of complaints filed per precinct on its website, where people can search by allegations by precinct per year or per month. It also breaks down how many of those complaints are fully investigated — dating back to 2006 — and under which allegations, per precinct and year.
As soon as a complaint is submitted, investigators collect the evidence and bring it to the CCRB board, which is made up of members selected by the mayor, City Council and the NYPD. The CCRB also tries to mediate between the person filing the complaint and the officer or the officer's precinct leadership — but the investigation will continue if the person who filed the complaint feels the mediation process wasn't successful or the person doesn't feel it helped resolved the situation.
If the complaint is substantiated, it is referred to the NYPD for disciplinary action, Alvarez said.
"If there are people in the community that have stories, or have suggestions to share with us, that’s why we’re here,” Alvarez said. “We want residents to know where to go, in the event that something happens.”
The event was organized as part of Dominican Heritage month by the Inwood-based Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR), which works to defend and protect immigrants. It included representatives from some of Uptown’s prominent Dominican organizations, such as the Dominican Civic Cultural Center, Dominicanos USA, Audubon Reform Democratic Club and Bodegueros, along with representatives from several elected officials, local schools and small business owners.
No official was present from the NYPD or local precinct.
Eddison Alban, spokesman for CCRB said the reason the NYPD did not send representatives is that the goal is to introduce the agency to the community first.
But the leaders said this type of meeting should have been organized sooner to not only educate the community, but also educate and help train police officials who work within the community.
“I want to know why the city hasn’t conducted — in this community — this type of reunion or meeting before,” said long-term leading activist in the Dominican community, Tirso Piña in Spanish, adding he was concerned that only so few groups were invited, and that dozens should be in attendance to learn about CCRB.
“You need to come and really educate the community,” Piña said, adding that he was the victim of police harassment and assault on several occasions, including one incident he reported decades ago that took place inside his home.
Angela Fernandez, executive director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights and board member of CCRB, said the meeting was designed to be an introduction to the community and that more events and workshops are in the works.
Eddie Silverio of Catholic Charities Community Services in Alianza Division said the agency's goal should not only be to work with the community, but also train officers directly to deescalate situations.
“One of the biggest things, I’ve seen — and it hurts us — is that we don’t know how to communicate, and it goes from zero to 100 right away,” said Silverio, adding with teens and youths in particular this has proven to be very dangerous.