The debate in Flashpoint episode 117, featuring Normal Siegel and Bruce Smirti, addresses the then-recent rise in civilian complaints of police abuse, the merits of the related Civilian Complaint Review Board, and the extent to which a police residency requirement would improve officer-community relations, especially in predominantly low-income or minority precincts.

The February 28, 1995 episode of Flashpoint centers on the then-recent rise in civilian complaints of police abuse under Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on “quality of life” infractions, in the wake of the 1994 Mollen Commission, which investigated police corruption. This investigation, under preceding Mayor David Dinkins, found that “corruption and brutality are often linked… and should no longer be artificially separated.” The findings also revealed that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) usually probed corruption allegations more intensively than those of brutality.(1) Norman Siegel, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, contends that the new Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), in tapping a number of those individuals employed by the police in prior corruption investigations, established a conflict of interest that undermines the organization’s purpose of holding officers accountable to respecting the civil liberties of those with whom they interact. Much of the debate, with hosts Michael Cottman, Eric Breindel, and New York defense attorney Bruce Smirti, thus responds to his assertion that the work of the CCRB and any subsequent internal NYPD investigations must be joined together into a single system worthy of both police and community confidence to maximize the CCRB’s efficacy.

In this context, Siegel also points out that most complaints directed to the CCRB respond to police officer attitudes outside of the context of arrests. He and Cottman elaborate that many white officers see assignments to minority communities as punishment, having described these precincts as “the zoo” or “dumping grounds” and referred to their residents as “animals.” With the lack of proportional minority representation in the police force relative to the city’s demographics, and the fact that most officers live outside of New York City, both Cottman and Siegel posit that a requirement for NYPD officers to live in the city would improve police-community relations.

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Buell Center (aes2344)