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Syracuse Citizen Review Board head stepping down, lawsuit against police still pending

Tom Magnarelli
Joseph Lipari, the administrator for the Citizen Review Board in Syracuse.

The administrator for Syracuse’s Citizen Review Board, which investigates complaints against the police department, is stepping down next month. This comes amidst a pending lawsuit the review board brought against the Syracuse Police Department.

The Citizen Review Board had a recent win in court when a judge ruled that the agency has the right to sue, which allows it to proceed with this case. Joseph Lipari, the administrator for the review board said access to the judicial process is crucial.

“I think it will discourage other entities from trying to ignore their obligations to the CRB,” Lipari said.

That strikes at the heart of the lawsuit the review board filed against the Syracuse Police Department. Police Chief Frank Fowler has not responded to complaints from the review board which he did not receive within a specified 60-day window. Lipari said outside legal counsel tells him that the 60-day timeline is, what the law calls, directory.  

“Meaning you aim for it, but there’s no consequence if you don’t meet it,” Lipari said.

A judge will make a ruling in state Supreme Court on May 5.

After nearly four years on the job, Lipari is moving on to the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD in May. In his time at the review board, he said it has expanded its role and is seeing results. Complaints against excessive force, particularly after police subdue a suspect that is fleeing, have significantly decreased from 25 in 2013 down to just four in 2015.

“I think it indicates that civilian oversight, even when its only role is to make recommendations, can really improve policing,” Lipari said. "I think it puts the CRB on pretty stable ground going forward."

Liparid said the review board has also been strengthened by the Common Council's approval of additional investigators, medical consultants and language interpreters.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.