NEW YORK -- The new chairman of the New York City board that investigates alleged police misconduct suggested on Tuesday that the panel may stop probing some complaints involving stop-and-frisk, a controversial police tactic that became a target for Mayor Bill de Blasio last year.
"This is literally floating an idea, I don't want to be adamant about this," Chairman Richard Emery said Tuesday at the Civilian Complaint Review Board's first meeting since his appointment last month. "I'm not sure whether stop and frisk by itself anymore is appropriate in this agency."
Emery's suggestion came as he said the review board needs "prioritization" to deal with an "onslaught" of civilian complaints against police. The board, which operates outside the NYPD, received 5,410 complaints last year.
"It seems to me if we're going to put high priority on some cases, there are going to be other cases which are lower priority," said Emery. He suggested that the newly created office of the NYPD inspector general, plus a federally appointed stop-and-frisk monitor, may be better suited to investigate stop-and-frisk complaints. He also said many complaints could be handled through mediation rather than full investigations.
De Blasio, who promised during his campaign to curb stop-and-frisk policing, appointed Emery, a civil rights lawyer, on July 17 to reform the review board. The same day, Eric Garner of Staten Island died from an NYPD officer's chokehold.
Since his appointment, Emery has announced a review board inquiry into the more than 1,000 chokehold complaints the board has received over the last five years. The board's executive director, Tracy Catapano-Fox, acknowledged the panel never notified the NYPD that it had a problem with chokeholds.
Emery's appointment was praised by civil liberties organizations. But his suggestion that the review board should seek "seamless cooperation" from other branches of city government, including the NYPD, was greeted with skepticism from some.
"How does that jibe with the role and the spirit of an oversight committee, to be doing work where the police unions feel comfortable?" asked Josmar Trujillo, an organizer with New Yorkers Against Bratton, an advocacy group opposed to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and his embrace of "broken windows" policing.
At the same time, Emery floated other ideas that may make unions uneasy. One proposal Emery endorsed, from the New York Civil Liberties Union, was to create a "CopStat" computer program modeled on the NYPD's CompStat. Instead of identifying crime trends, it would identify problem officers.
Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the NYCLU, said he and Emery were "fellow travelers of sorts." But Dunn said he greeted the stop-and-frisk suggestion with alarm.
Emery's comments follow other review board signals that it may be backing off stop-and-frisk investigations over the past several months, including a leaked legal memo that appeared to undercut agency stop-and-frisk investigations.
Dunn said he told Emery "it is a mistake if your view in taking the agency forward is we are here to make everybody feel better."
"There's no way this agency can walk away from stop and frisk," Dunn said.