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Syracuse Police Department Review Board making a difference

Ellen Abbott

It's been about a year since a revitalized Citizen's Review Board started investigating complaints about Syracuse Police officers, but their first annual report, which covers the last half of 2012, shows progress.  

The Citizen's Review Board, or CRB, accepted 69 complaints against Syracuse police officers in the last two quarters of 2012, according to the group's administrator Joseph Lipari.

"Out of those 69 cases, we had a 17 percent sustain rate. That means 17 percent of those 69 cases resulted in some kind of sustained finding against an officer and a disciplinary recommendation," he said.

Lipari says getting those cases processed and closed in a timely manner was one of the goals of the CRB's new look. But that wasn't the case in the former version of the organization created in the 1990s to respond to reports of police brutality. Lipari says complaints back then mostly involved charges of excessive force, failure to act, or poor demeanor.

There are also goals for the future, says Lipari. For example, better communication with the police chief and Onondaga County public safety departments. And the CRB has some minor suggestions for law enforcement policy improvements as well, like a better procedure for receipts when police confiscate cash and changing the way police repair a home after a forced entry. He says there was a situation last year when an officer secured a door with only two nails.

"The house was burglarized after this. The nails were taken out and someone stole property from the residence. So we want to tighten up the rules and make sure that is as least likely to happen as possible," he explained.

The bottom line, says Lipari, is that a functional, independent watchdog agency over police makes a difference.

"Having a CRB around and the public and officers knowing that every complaint will be thoroughly investigated, and fairly and impartially investigated, and the findings presented to the chief, and the data from our office provided to the public, I think that can have the effect of reigning in any misconduct that can happen."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.