CNY Solidarity Coalition

United in defense of our community and our neighbors

Vote No to Proposed Changes to CRB Law

UPDATE: On April 22, 2024 the Syracuse Common Council voted 5 – 4 to pass changes to the Citizen Review Board. The Mayor is reviewing the legislation and will make a determination following a required public hearing to be held May 1. We will post details of the public hearing once they are announced. Until then please email Ben Walsh or call his office to veto this legislation.

PLEASE COME THE COUNCIL CHAMBER MONDAY TO SPEAK WITH YOU PRESENCE.  Study Session 12 noon.  Voting Meeting 1 pm See Agenda Here.


Members of the Common Council, 

I am writing to ask you to please vote No on Monday to proposed changes to CRB law, so that we can take a much much more careful look at the issues that were only disclosed publicly 2 days ago in a newspaper article and have not otherwise been discussed openly or by the Council at all. 

There are multiple causes of the issues described in the paper, and the reasons do NOT rest only on the CRB administrator or board chair.  Some of the problems exist because of actions taken and/or because of inaction by the City’s Executive branch and by members of the Common Council, but none of this has yet come to light. 

In 2011, then Councilor Pam Hunter convened an Advisory Committee to examine the problems at that time, research best practices, identify ALL the sections of the law that merited revision, and propose appropriate amendments. I was on that Advisory Committee and served as its “scribe.” After the Committee reported its findings and recommendations for revisions to the law, the Council took time to openly discuss and debate those amendments to fully understand their intent and impact before they agreed to vote.

I ask you to consider how Pam and the Council approached this in late 2011/early 2012, and to create a new protocol that no amendments be made to the CRB legislation without open and public dialogue and meaningful public input.  You could follow Pam’s example and consider creating an Advisory Committee to look at ALL the issues and whether these amendments are the best course right now, or if other steps should be taken first or instead.

Here are some other issues that should be considered BEFORE you act:

  • What have been the reasons why the CRB has not held hearings?   What contributed to delays?  Who shares responsibility for these delays?  What could be done to improve this situation?  What needs to be changed in the legislation to improve compliance with hearing timelines?  Is the 60 day deadline reasonable?  Why or why not?  Do Councilors even know what is involved in a CRB hearing process? 
  • Why has the CRB Board not had a quorum so often?  How has this impeded their work?  Who shares responsibility for this situation and what could be done to improve it? 
  • Why have the terms of 6 out of 11 members of the CRB Board run out without the Council acting to reappoint the current Board member or appoint new ones.  Why has the Council failed to act on this?
  • Why was there NO public hearing or meeting of the Public Safety Committee held to discuss concerns about CRB operations IN PUBLIC before changes in the legislation were brought to the Council and set for a vote?  Was this intentional?  If so, why?  Does the Council not care to provide transparency or receive public input before it acts to amend an important local law? 
  • Section 6 – 3 – b of the current legislation established a committee to review the performance of the administrator, at least annually. Why was that committee not convened since 2020?  That committee includes the Chair of the Public Safety Committee and the Board Chair and the Mayor or his/her designee, the CRB Board Chair and 2-3 Board Members.  If there were concerns about delays in required reports, why did the Public Safety Chair or the Mayor not call for a meeting of this Committee. The legislation does not preclude them from doing so or from asking the Board Chair to do so. 
  • If it has proven difficult if not impossible for the CRB or the Police to complete a complaint investigation in 30 days, why has an amendment not been proposed to lengthen this to 60 or 90 days? 
  • If a hearing is supposed to be held within 60 days, why is the law firm the City hired to represent its interest or the interest of police officers demanding 4 weeks advance notice of any hearing date. When they were hired, were they not informed that this would likely impede the CRB from compliance with its legislative timeline. Was this intentional? 
  • If the CRB was authorized to hire an investigator for the fiscal year July 1 2023 to June 30, 2024, why has the City’s Human Resources Dept. failed to even post the job for 7 months?  Was this intentional?  If investigations are taking too long, perhaps filling this position in a much more timely fashion would be a first step towards addressing the case backlog.. 
  • Why did the City Clerk fail to notify the CRB about 2 new appointments in either 2023 or 2024?  Was this intentional?  In what ways did this impede the CRB from being able to get things done?
  • How does this reflect on whether it is appropriate to put the CRB budget and staff under the supervision of the City Clerk at this time?
  • In July 2023, why was the CRB staff first placed in a new office space with no privacy for discussions with complainants or witnesses or other aspects of sensitive investigations?  Was this intentional?  Why was the confidential nature of the CRB’s work not accommodated in selecting their office space? And why did it take until February 2024 to get the CRB into more appropriate office space?  Certainly this situation impeded their ability to get things done. Was this intentional? 
  • Were District Councilors aware that their appointed CRB members were not attending meetings of the CRB?  Did they inquire about this?  If not, why not?  What responsibility does the Council have for allowing appointed Board members to remain on the Board when they did not show up?
  • If the issues described in the paper have been evident for 2-3 years, why is this the first time that this is coming to light?  Why was a hearing or Public Safety Committee meeting not held to engage in public discussion of these issues?  If the issues are serious enough to amend the legislation now, why were these issues allowed to continue for 2 to 3 years in silence?
  • How many Councilors have attended at least 2 to 3 CRB meetings in the last 12 months, so they could gain a sense of what the CRB did and how or what problems they were facing?  Ever attended a CRB meeting?  Ever had a conversation with its Board Chair or staff?  Checked in with their appointee on the Board?
  • When the CRB’s legal secretary resigned in 2021 or 2022 while the administrator was on a 12 week maternity leave, why did the City leave the CRB office completely unstaffed with no one to act on any of the pending case investigations?  Was this intentional?  Did this not create a backlog of cases then?  How long did it take for the city to hire a new legal secretary to assist the administrator upon her return to work?  Was the administrator left without support until some time in 2023?  And if so why?  What difficulties did that present in producing required reports?  

As I said above, the responsibility for where we are now is SHARED. Nobody seems to have been watching or caring until now.  If the Council had the authority to act to address the points of concern above over a period of years,and every Councilor failed to act or even to speak about these concerns, how does it make any sense to  bring the CRB more under the Council’s control right now?  Or to place the CRB under the supervision of the County Clerk when that is 1) beyond the scope of the Clerks job in the City Charter, and 2) when the Clerk is not required to have any expertise in civilian oversight of a police agency, or an oversight entity’s mission, methods, challenges, staffing or budgetary needs?  CRB Board members are trained.  They understand the mission, the work, the challenges and the needs. The Clerk would not.

In Friday’s news article Councilor Majok stated his opinion that his proposed amendments are not a major change to the CRB. He is WRONG. The proposed changes are NOT just administrative. They are fundamental changes in the structure and balance that was intentionally built into the CRB legislation.  They remove the Board’s power to propose a budget that meets its needs with the resources to meet the legislation’s mandate. They impede the ability of the Board President and the Administrator to speak to the challenges they face and what they need to improve their operations.  They remove the Board’s authority to appoint an Administrator based on the candidates’ management skills and their level of expertise in civilian oversight of law enforcement, and open up the process of picking an administrator to personal and political pressures. I think that this is ill advised and will not solve anything, except to make the CRB less effective. 

Please halt the apparent rush to a vote and hold public meetings to inquire about these concerns, to address the SHARED responsibilities for what has and has not happened, as well as delays in reports, investigations, and hearings discussed in the online Post Standard article.  Please pause, to discuss PUBLICALLY the sections of the law that really need to be reconsidered and those that should remain in line with the legislative intent of the revised law. As part of the Advisory Committee that drafted the 2012 amendments, I know what those revisions were intended to do and why, and I have no confidence that several of these provisions are being utilized.  Yet the amendments recently proposed throw out some carefully crafted provisions we intended to fix basic problems with the first CRB law and would eliminate the essential balance of powers and independence of CRB Board action we tried so hard to preserve. Please do not rush to dilute and control the CRB in this way, especially without any real transparency or meaningful opportunity for public input. 

Finally, best practices for CRB’s around the country involve adequate staffing, funding and independence. The proposed amendments go in an entirely different direction. There is an organization called NACOLE (National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement) that is the national expert on police oversight.  I am a member of NACOLE and can attest to the depth of their staff and board’s knowledge. The Council and the Mayor could contact their Executive Director Cameron McElhiney and request consultation about how our CRB legislation could be improved.  Please take this step first and draw on their expertise, rather than just going with what one or two Councilors have decided on their own would be the right course. Don’t rush to a presumed solution that would fundamentally change what the CRB was intended to be 

Thank you, 

Barrie Gewanter

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