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44 cases of Syracuse police complaints are past 18-month window for discipline

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media File Photo
Citizen Review Board Administrator Ranette Releford in 2019.

The Syracuse Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards investigates complaints against the police. But Syracuse also has a Citizen Review Board, made up of members nominated by the mayor and Common Council, which conducts its own investigations and makes recommendations for disciplining officers. A backlog of 89 outstanding cases from 2017-2019 still needs to be completed by the CRB. And of that number, 44 cases have fallen outside of an 18-month window an officer has to be disciplined.

That 18-month window is part of New York State civil service law. An officer must be brought up and advised of the charges against them and some sort of resolution needs to occur.

For those 44 cases now outside the 18-month window, Ranette Releford, administrator of the Citizen Review Board, said they’ll still process those cases, even if no officer is disciplined. But, she said, it’s still a loophole.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media
Releford at an online Council committee meeting on Monday.

“There could be an opportunity for someone to push a case back, so that the 18-month deadline passes, prior to the resolve of a case,” Releford said. “Which presents another grave issue to the public’s trust, with regard to the department being the sole person to hold themselves accountable.”

Even though the CRB can make recommendations on discipline, the final decision is ultimately up to the police chief.

When someone makes a complaint against the police, they can go to either the CRB or the police department’s Office of Professional Standards, and the two entities are supposed to send the cases over to each other. But CRB member Peter McCarthy said OPS has not always done that.

“There’s no accountability, there’s no mechanism for knowing whether there are cases there sitting, in addition to the ones we’re getting,” McCarthy said.

Police Chief Kent Buckner said the department has not been sitting idle. He’s overhauled the internal affairs unit with a new lieutenant and three new sergeants. They moved the office out of police headquarters to the City Hall Commons, across from the CRB. And Buckner said he won’t be making any final decisions on discipline, until Releford weighs in first.

“You know what I inherited!” Buckner exclaimed at an online Council committee meeting. “You know what I inherited! And to say or imply we have not been doing anything is offensive.”

CRB members said Buckner has made progress on some issues, compared to his predecessor. But things still need to improve.

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.