The Civilian Complaint Review Board — the city agency that investigates complaints against the New York police — is hoping for a windfall: Surely the protests around the Republican National Convention will bring it a whole new set of clients.
Such a fabulous contingency is not something you just leave to chance, however. So the CCRB has sent out about 750 e-mails to anti-RNC groups across the world seeking their business.
Like any good marketer who understands the power of the face-to-face appeal, the agency has offered protesters from Pakistan to Peninsula, Calif., the opportunity to meet personally with its staff “to discuss the CCRB’s work and the investigative process.”
The $9.3 million agency perennially complains about inadequate manpower and budget, yet it apparently can set aside time to meet with such groups as “The Vomitorium” and “African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change” to go over its new, customer-friendly complaint system.
The agency also posted information on the Web site of United for Peace and Justice, the umbrella organization for convention protest, on how to file complaints by dialing 311 or going on the Internet.
This Web blitz is just the latest step in the CCRB’s convention preparations. All year, the agency has been pressuring the NYPD for speedy access to police records for what it “assumes” will be a barrage of complaints from demonstrators. It has argued that officers on horseback should identify themselves more prominently, so as to make complaints easier. And CCRB workers have been attending monthly meetings of the Campaign to Demilitarize the Police, according to a Campaign spokesman.
The CCRB justifies its unprecedented client solicitation by pointing to its charter, which confers on it the responsibility of educating the public about itself. But this outreach effort seems unnecessary. The entire left-wing legal establishment in New York is itching to sue the police for what it is convinced will be suppression of First Amendment activity. The National Lawyers Guild has lined up hundreds of lawyers and legal observers to tape demonstrations and solicit clients for brutality suits.
Every anarchist in the country is primed to provoke the cops — just as they did in Philadelphia during the 2000 GOP convention and in Miami for the World Trade Organization meeting last year. The thousands of protesters arriving in New York don’t just know their “rights,” they’re determined to test them against cops trying to protect the city from violence.
Nevertheless, the CCRB’s hustle for more clients is understandable. Agency meetings are depressing affairs: Despite continual advertising in local newsletters and newspapers, when board members take their show to community centers across the city, they usually are left speaking to empty auditoriums. Few New Yorkers feel an urgent need to complain against police brutality, it seems.
Nor can the agency point to a rampaging police department, unable to police itself, to justify its existence. The majority of complaints the CCRB receives are bogus, filed by criminals hoping to make their arresting officer’s life miserable. Last year, the board received 5,568 complaints and substantiated 294 of them — out of the millions of officer-civilian interactions each year.
Yet convention-generated complaints are unlikely to be any more credible. Anti-RNC protesters recommend feigning illness during arrest so as to bog down the booking process. People willing to fake illness will hardly shrink from faking CCRB complaints in order to tie up the NYPD long after the convention is over.
Call it anarchism that keeps on giving.