Richard Emery was once a firebrand civil rights lawyer, fighting the man. That is, until he became the man. Because of his background litigating against police misconduct, he was given a seat on the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, the toothless tiger created as a palliative body designed to give the impression of oversight of police.
With each subsequent scandal, and its related commission, it was tweaked a bit to acknowledge its worthlessness and finally make it work, until the next scandal, next commission. In 2014, Emery became its chair. Within a few months, Emery was fully co-opted into the system.
In New York, the number of false statements noted by the agency, while small, has grown in an age of easy and widespread video and audio recording by civilians. In 2014, the agency found 26 instances where they believed an officer gave a false statement to investigators, a total equal to the previous four years combined.
“It is more likely now than ever that the officers’ lack of truthfulness is going to be captured, documented, and that is a function of video,” said Richard D. Emery, the chairman of the review board, who emphasized that such instances are far from the norm. “What we’re trying to highlight is that when it happens, it should be taken seriously.”
Holy cow! Cops lie? Who knew?!? But at least “such instances are far from the norm,” because Emery said so. How he would know such a thing isn’t explained, but since he reveals how the CCRB discovered a full 26 instances of lying, it is fair to presume that no claim by police that wasn’t captured on video could be a lie. Or, in the parlance of official people on very important government boards, it’s “unsubstantiated.”
As for the lies captured on video, the problem lies not with the cops, but with the unfairness to cops of people lying about them, when there is no video to substantiate the claim:
But the issue of truth telling has been of central concern to the agency in recent months as police unions have complained that civilians who accuse officers are allowed to fabricate their stories.
Union officials have called for people filing complaints to be required to make their statements under oath and under penalty of perjury, a felony.
“It is patently unjust that police officers are the only ones held accountable for the statements they make to C.C.R.B. investigators,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement last month.
And indeed, Emery feels for the unfair pressure placed on police.
“We are sympathetic to the officers who have been forced to do things that the Police Department should have known was wrong,” Mr. Emery said, speaking of the years during the Bloomberg administration when officers engaged in record numbers of stop-and-frisk encounters.
Then again, it’s not as if the CCRB’s findings and recommendations actually matter.
A spokesman for the department did not immediately return a request for comment. Mr. Emery said he did not know whether any officers had been disciplined for their apparently false statements.
No doubt Emery would have paid close attention to whether the police department used the CCRB’s findings to impose discipline for their newfound lying, but he was busy. Chairfolks can be very busy, doing official chairfolks stuff, and don’t have the time to follow up on their grand total of 26 instances of lying. Not even one instance. Very, very busy.
The CCRB has been around, in various permutations, since Robert Wagner was mayor, when it consisted of three police commissioners whose function was to proclaim the cops clean as a whistle and just a great bunch of guys. They’ve added investigations and subpoena power since, and put civilians like Emery on the board to give the appearance of someone independent giving a shit, so newspapers could write stories that evoked something beyond sighs and head-shaking.
All of which raises the core problem, that these official government solutions to pervasive and systemic problems end up not only failing to fix anything, but taking guys like Richard Emery and turning them into apologists for the system. Is this possible that Emery believes that unless something is captured on video, the cop’s word is factually truthful?
Is he so totally out of touch as to realize that CCRB complaints are made only by a minute fraction of New Yorkers, naïve enough to waste their time going through the motions only to get blown out of the water because they don’t have a video to prove their face didn’t attack the cop’s fist?
Emery is no fool. He just plays one now that he’s adjusted from outside agitator to inside mitigator. Every statement contains the requisite caveat, the one about how lying cops is a rarity, about how cops are brave and wonderful, and risk their lives saving kittens from trees. This is to keep PBA boss Pat Lynch from smacking the crap out of him, as watering down anything that might hurt the union’s feelings is a requirement of the chair.
Even here, where he kinda sorta says something a tiny bit unpleasant toward cops, Emery makes sure to water it down, to minimize it, to couch it in language that soothes the angry cop ego, so that no one’s feelings are hurt. Well, not exactly no one. More, no cop. Because the hurt feelings are all over the streets, but since they are the feelings of people who had the misfortune to get tossed by cops — the ones toward whom Emery feels sympathetic because they were forced to brutalize black kids — their feelings mean squat.
Plus, there’s no video, so it never happened. We can feel confident in that because Richard Emery says so, and he would never lie to us.