Established in its current incarnation in 1993 under the leadership of former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins, the Civilian Complaint Review Board asserts to be the largest civilian oversight agency of its kind within the United States, and investigates thousands of civilian complaints each year.
Even though it has only existed in its current form for a little over a decade, the conception of a board delegated power to investigate complaints about potential police misconduct predates the administration of Robert Wagner, who was responsible for investing the nascent Civilian Complaint Review Board-which was then comprised solely of three deputy police commissioners-with new powers in 1955. However, it remained a province of the NYPD, with all investigations being conducted by police officers, and their findings forwarded to the deputy commissioners for recommendation.
In 1965, Mayor John Lindsay would ask former federal judge Lawrence E. Walsh to conduct an investigation into the role of the review board. He would recommend that members of the general public, non-police officers, be given substantial authority in any new civilian complaint review board.
Subsequently, Lindsay designed a search committee tasked with finding civilians fit to serve on this new review board, which was chaired by former Attorney General Herbert Brownell. After much debate-and opposition to the proposal from the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association-Mayor Lindsay decided to appoint four civilians to the reconstituted board.
This prompted opponents of the newly redesigned board to campaign for a city ballot proposal that would have forbidden any direct civilian oversight of uniformed police officers in New York City. The measure was enacted by an overwhelming margin, and the review board once again came under the sole purview of the New York Police Department.
In 1986, the New York City Council enacted a piece of legislation that called for imposing some degree of civilian oversight once again, which led to the appointment of six new members by the mayor-with the advice and consent of the City Council-and six by the police commissioner. The Civilian Complaints Investigative Bureau then began to hire civilians to investigate complaints lodged against the NYPD, but did so with the oversight of police department investigators and employees.
The incident that galvanized some members of the political body politic and certain segments of the public behind the movement for an all-civilian supervisory board occurred on August 6, 1988, where individuals protesting a curfew imposed over Tompkins Square Park were forcibly removed from the premises.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board commissioned an investigation into this incident, and published a report that was extremely critical of NYPD conduct during that confrontation.
Critics of internal police procedures used the Tompkins Square "riots" in order to press for an all-civilian review board.
In 1993 Mayor Dinkins and the New York City Council created the Civilian Complaint Review Board in its current incarnation and invested it with subpoena authority, and gave it the ability to recommend disciplinary measures in cases where police misconduct were verified and substantiated.