De Blasio Appoints Richard Emery to Chair Police Oversight Board

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NYC's new Civilian Complaint Review Board chair has a long history of civil-rights advocacy. | photo: Vincent Desjardins via Flickr
After a long vacancy, New York City's Civilian Complaint Review Board will have a new leader at its helm. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a city hall news conference this afternoon that longtime civil-rights attorney Richard Emery will assume the chair of the agency. The CCRB is an independent body that reviews citizen complaints against NYPD officers and sends recommendations for disciplinary action to the police commissioner.

A former staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, Emery made his name partly by suing New York City in law-enforcement-related cases, a fact de Blasio joked about during his introduction.

"Richard is known, of course, as a staunch defender of civil rights," de Blasio said, "and he has never been afraid to take on the City of New York." The mayor added that after major reforms in recent years, having Emery as the leader of the CCRB would be like "starting from scratch."

Emery called the prospect "daunting and flattering all at the same time," saying that under his leadership the agency would balance the rights of the public with the ability of officers to do their job without unwarranted interference.

"Responding to and adjudicating complaints quickly and fairly, and concentrating on the serious complaints...is what the CCRB now has an opportunity to do," Emery said. "To help build the confidence of the community, on the one hand, and just as importantly, the police officers, the professionals that our city cannot live without."

One of Emery's most notable cases came in 2010, when he won a landmark civil-rights lawsuit over strip searches performed on nonviolent, low-level offenders at the Rikers Island jail facility. The city agreed to pay out $33 million on behalf of more than 100,000 plaintiffs.

The top spot at the CCRB has been vacant since January, when Daniel Chu resigned. The board has been functioning in the meantime; it reviews thousands of complaints every year through board investigations and a formal mediation process.

De Blasio, who as the city's public advocate in 2009 pushed successfully to give the CCRB somewhat sharper teeth, had received criticism from some quarters for moving slowly on the appointment. De Blasio's election campaign last year focused heavily on police tactics like Stop and Frisk, and he has generally advocated for greater oversight for the NYPD. His failure to fill the top CCRB post had caused grumbling even among ostensible allies.

A statement released by Citizens United for Police Reform praised Emery's "strong, consistent commitment to justice." Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU attended the press conference and said she hoped the new chair would help the organization realize what she called ample "untapped potential."

"It's good to hear that the mayor has made it clear that he's committed to making the CCRB work," Lieberman said. "We look forward to meeting with the new chair.... Richard has a long history of fighting for civil rights."


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