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New head of Syracuse Citizen Review Board ready to move forward after winning lawsuits

Tom Magnarelli
David Chaplin, the administrator for the Citizen Review Board in Syracuse.

The new head of Syracuse’s Citizen Review Board calls a recent win in court against the Syracuse Police Department a positive precedent in how the review board operates. The new administrator has a history of working with the Syracuse police chief which he hopes will help both the police department and the review board move forward.

David Chaplin took over as the administrator of the review board in June. Previously, he was an attorney for the city of Syracuse in labor and personnel law. He negotiated on behalf of the city when fashioning labor agreements with the police union. He fought on behalf of Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler to uphold discipline enforcement against officers.

But now Chaplin is on the other side of the table. He is the head of the independent, investigative body reviewing allegations of police misconduct and making recommendations to Fowler on how an officer should be disciplined.

“The reality is I inherited a mess of a relationship between the city, the Citizen Review Board and the police department," Chaplin said. "The leaders of those organizations did not get along, for one reason or another, at the end of the prior administrator’s tenure.”    

That mess included two lawsuits, both of which the review board won saying they have the right to sue the city and Fowler has to reply to officer discipline recommendations the review board makes, even if the review board goes beyond a 60-day time limit.   

“When we win we lose, when we lose we lose big," Chaplin said. "Because when we win, the fact the city spent money fighting it and we spent money on a private attorney fighting it, the public loses.”

Chaplin said he is receiving complaints about police daily.

"Forty-seven cases on tap, 18 that came in this past month, I'm just now wrapping up the cases from May," Chaplin said. "That 60-day timeframe means a lot right now, making sure that the people whose cases do go to hearing and we do sustain the complaint made, that the chief will respond and let us know what he is or is not going to do."  

Now, Chaplin is hoping the city will not appeal the decisions, which they are expected to do. Chaplin said his communication with Fowler is only getting stronger.

"I've talked with the chief about the fact that we have certain projects we're planning together to show the community that the CRB, the police department and the city are working together now in spite of the past," Chaplin said. "One thing I brought up to him is that the public is going to be concerned about your accepting of our recommendations, both policy and discipline."

Chaplin said the police chief is willing to go through the prior policy recommendations of the board, one by one, to see if they can be implemented. That is one way, Chaplin says, he thinks the two can rebuild a fraught relationship.

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.