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It was noteworthy that when Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch issued a statement attacking a Manhattan judge's ruling Nov. 9 increasing the Civilian Complaint Review Board's investigatory authority, he focused solely on the part allowing the board to look into charges of sexual misconduct against cops.
The other half of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Laurence Love's decision gave the CCRB the power to pursue allegations of "intentionally untruthful testimony" by police officers. And it would have been difficult for the PBA leader to make the argument that both the NYPD and the District Attorney's Offices had long proven their willingness to aggressively pursue such cases.
Two recent events made clear that in the past, both the Police Department and the city's DAs often were willing to look the other way when it came to lying by officers, whether in court or in statements to investigators.
A day before Justice Love's decision, Queens Supreme Court Justice Michelle Johnson, at DA Melinda Katz's request, dismissed 60 convictions in the borough because they were based on significant testimony by Detectives who were subsequently convicted of crimes themselves, including perjury.
Ms. Katz's willingness to air out her predecessor's dirty laundry is part of a trend over the past decade that began when defense lawyers were able to show that a large string of convictions in Brooklyn resulted from dishonest actions by Detectives—one in particular—who solicited unreliable witnesses to implicate men in murders they didn't commit.
After longtime Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes lost his re-election bid because of negative publicity from those tainted cases and the willingness of his prosecutors to go along with dubious evidence to boost the office's conviction rate, successor Ken Thompson created a Conviction Review Unit to examine other possible unjust prosecutions. It was soon replicated in other boroughs.
While the current cadre of city DAs grasp that allowing someone to be framed on flimsy evidence makes a mockery of conviction rates, while leaving those who actually committed the crimes free to do more, a recent special court inquiry into the death of Eric Garner suggests the NYPD isn't as eager to expose or punish officers who lie.
Late last month, Officer Justin D'Amico, the partner of Daniel Pantaleo—whose department-banned chokehold was a primary factor in Mr. Garner's death—acknowledged that he lied (he called it a "mistake") when he wrote in his incident report that cops used no physical force during the confrontation. He admitted another "mistake": after Mr. Garner had died, he charged him with a felony for selling untaxed cigarettes—when the threshold for that charge is having 10,000 or more for sale and the dead man was found to have just 95 cigarettes in his pockets.
When Deputy Commissioner for Internal Affairs Joseph Reznick was asked during the hearing why he hadn't recommended disciplinary action against Officer D'Amico on the cigarette charge, he said he thought there was no "ill intent on his part to either deceive or create something that wasn't there."
A more-logical explanation for why no charges were brought is that a public airing of those lies shortly after the 2014 confrontation would have added to the outrage that already existed over an arrest on such a petty offense ending in a man's death.
The Police Commissioner at the time, Blll Bratton, would have had a particular concern about such information coming to light, since this was the second time in 20 years during his twin tenures in the job that a police choke-hold contributed to a man's death after a dubious arrest attempt. The other was the 1994 choking of Anthony Baez in a confrontation with Officer Frank Livoti that spurred from the officer's rage that a football the Baez brothers had been tossing in front of their family's house accidentally struck his patrol car for the second time.
Mr. Bratton has long been a proponent of the Broken Windows theory of policing, which argues that allowing small crimes to go unpunished creates disorder that invites more-serious offenses.
He and other Police Commissioners, however, have seemed unwilling to apply this theory to lying by cops that is designed to cover up wrongdoing by themselves or colleagues. But each lie that becomes public eats away at confidence in the police.
The CCRB was created nearly 30 years ago because of bad behavior by many cops during a City Hall rally; ironically enough, against a bill for an all-civilian review board that was expected to go nowhere until their misbehavior became too shocking to ignore.
Less than a decade later, when Mr. Lynch, not long after he became union president, led a rally in Battery Park against what he called demonization of his members by the media, one notable change was that while the 1992 mini-riot featured many cops who drank beer that morning before they tried to storm City Hall, most of those in Battery Park carried water bottles.
Having the CCRB bringing cases to deal with "testilying" may have a deterrent effect that produces a similar switch, with truth becoming the beverage of choice.