CCRB Member Chided for Releasing Documents -- But Are They Confidential?

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The Conflict of Interest Board has given a gentle reminder to a top member of the independent board that reviews minor police misconduct not to share confidential documents with the public, in a public letter today.

The question in this case -- which may have implications for whistleblowers and other types of cases -- was whether such documents are actually confidential.

In mid-2008, William Kuntz -- a member of the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board, and its head from 1987 and 1992 -- expressed dismay at a proposed policy that would have allowed lower level staff members to close some complaints before the cases went in front of the Review Board -- a three-member panel consisting of a mayoral appointee, a police appointee, and a council appointee.

Kuntz, a partner at the law firm Baker and Hostetler, argued that all cases should be given a hearing before the Board. (The Board has reversed the decisions of lower level staff members four times)...

Kuntz decided to send out copies of two draft letters about the "truncated cases" proposal -- one addressed to Police Commissioner Kelly and the other to Michael Cardozo, the city's corporation council -- to Queens councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr. Later in the day, the letters were e-mailed to other members of the City Council and to Christopher Dunn at the NYCLU.

The exact content of the letters is not known at this time and Kuntz referred all questions to the Conflict of Interest Board.

Today the city's Conflict of Interest Board said that Kuntz had not committed an act of wrongdoing; at the time he said he was under the impression that the content of the letters were public, since the policy had been discussed at public meetings, and because he hadn't used them to advance his private interests. But today's ruling implies that it didn't matter whether he used the letters to further an agenda: the mere disclosure of such documents is breaking the rules.

The proposal wasn't voted in, but just six weeks ago the CCRB voted for a pilot program that will allow lower level staff to 'truncate' some cases, in situations where a police officer's identity isn't known.

Both the CCRB and the Conflict of Interest Boards have significant weaknesses that prevent them from fulfilling their respective missions. The Conflict of Interest Board is underfunded and is one of the few such bodies in the country that does not have investigative power. Since 1993, for example, the CCRB has not had access to internal police files that provide information about an officer's prior disciplinary record.

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