New Amendment Seeks to Strip Power from Citizen Review Board

Recent legislation has been introduced which would severely reduce powers of Syracuse’s Citizen Review Board.  The law empowering the CRB has been on the books for over 20 years now faces its toughest battle yet.

It has been made clear by the CRB that the 60-day period current timeline for filing complaints is not enough. It takes more than 60-days to investigate and gather all of the information necessary for the Citizen Review Board to perform their duties.

In an unprecedented move the Citizen Review Board has filed a lawsuit regarding the 60 day timetable which is calendar days, reducing the time to complete their work to 45 business days. In addition, the Common Council has been asked to consider altering language in the law, so the CRB cannot “engage in any legal proceeding”.

Syracuse City Hall

Syracuse City Hall

The amendment explicitly prohibits the City of Syracuse’s CRB from the, “power to initiate, join, participate or commence any legal action or proceeding.”  The CRB was initiated in a citizen led effort to, “eliminate police misconduct and create accountability.” The proposed amendments approval would roll back progress made since the legislation was introduced in 1993.  According to those who were there when the legislation was adopted, the newly imposed obstacles should be rejected.

See following links for additional detail regarding CRB lawsuit and Syracuse Common Council Minutes

Community Speaks Out

Charles Anderson –                                                              Former Syracuse Common Councilor

Charles Anderson

Charles Anderson

Charles Anderson is the former Syracuse Common Councilor who led efforts to establish the CRB. The following is his testimony given February 24th to current members of the legislative body.

My fellow councilors, My name is Charles Anderson and I served 12 years on the Council as 4th District Councilor and President Pro Tempore for a time!

“I don’t feel no ways tired.  I’ve come too far from where I started from.  Nobody told me that the road would be easy.  I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.”

As we conclude the celebration of Black History Month, I’m reminded of a famous quote by Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never did and it never will.”

On January 25, 1993, some 23 years ago, I stood before the people of Syracuse who packed this room, as the men in blue surrounded this room, to introduce a local law of the City of Syracuse establishing a Citizen Review Board.  At that time, the Syracuse Police Chief and the Mayor adamantly opposed it.

So here we are today with an amendment that seeks to prevent the Citizen Review Board from exercising its “power to initiate, join, participate or commence any legal action or proceeding.”  Defeat it!  Send it packing.

That January morning I implored the Council and the audience: We can read history or we can make it.  We can sit on the sideline or we can be in the midst of the fray.  We decided back in 1990 we would be in the midst of the fray.  And for three years we were figuratively knocked down, literally insulted, but we rose from the ashes like the Phoenix.  The community got into the midst of the fray.  We had twenty-one distinguished community agencies and groups who stood up and spoke out, who were drum majors for Justice, barkers for truth and warriors in the midst of the fray.

Sarah Watrous, writing an article on “Police Misconduct in Syracuse” in The Peace Newsletter concluded and I quote: “Just as the creation of the CRB required concerted grassroots organizing, similar efforts are needed to restore its power to play a meaningful role in the broader efforts to eliminate police misconduct and create accountability.”

As we remember Frederick Douglass, the great orator and abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, the great Underground Railroad conductor, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer of Mississippi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, to name only a few, let us remember that down through the generations, their lives and their struggles have given inspiration and nobility to each of us, and that propels us onward to the work that this time and this place demands of us.  As a Council and as a citizenry we cannot lose that sense of history we celebrate this month.

“Let the fire of their words ignite our consciousness and our resolve.  Let the urgency of this time and place propel us to action.  Let the forcefulness of their lives give life to us, imbue us with daring and boldness, strength and perseverance.”

So my fellow Councilors, we birthed it, but its very survival now rests with you!  Thank you!

Nancy Keefe Rhodes –
Served on the original CRB Task Force

Nancy Keefe Rhodes has been active in Syracuse change efforts for decades. She served
on the original Task Force when the Citizen Review Board was established in addition to serving on Syracuse Common Councilor, Pam Hunters Task Force for revision.

The following are her comments in response to a Post-Standard article by Chris Baker about the proposed legislation first published online on 2/29: 

Nancy Keefe Rhodes on Citizen Review Board Amendment

Nancy Keefe Rhodes

Nancy Keefe Rhodes

This amendment should absolutely be held until the lawsuit in progress now has a hearing in court. To simply hijack the process with an end run really is not good governance.

I do wish that a number of events had not occurred that seem to have poisoned the well between the CRB & Frank Fowler. I publicly urged Mr. Lipari several years ago at a Council hearing to;

1) start implementing ALL of the CRB law by offering mediation where the ordinance says this should (they have now since started that, but none had been offered before that date)

2) to attend to the CRB’s relationship with the Chief. Exactly the opposite seems to have happened, including a number of ill-advised moves that have been difficult for many people supporting the CRB to defend. Syracuse is fortunate to have this chief & I would advise the CRB not to waste his remaining time in office. As a city we may not have the same opportunity again soon.

Be that as it may, this move by Councilor Thompson is not constructive & should be halted at this time. 

I also ask the Council to actively consider a number of recommendations the CRB has made to amend the law & make its functioning more efficient – requests that have sat there for some time with no response. For example, to allow a somewhat longer period to resolve cases & to allow people hearing panel members to be seated regardless of the source of their appointments.

Having served on City entities myself as an appointee, I am appalled when people assume that whoever appointed you manages & controls your votes. This simply is not the case, & the assumption that certain appointees must be kept separated in decision-making functions is incredibly insulting to them. Alan Rosenthal & I both served on both task forces to write the original CRB law under Councilor Anderson as well as its revision under Councilor Hunter – I understand why we inserted & later kept the language about hearing panel assignments. And I think it should be modified now. The Council would more constructively attend to these matters than shooting the CRB in the knees.