Chasing cops' paper trail: NYPD panel to scour lawsuits for police misconduct
BY Rocco Parascandola
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Thursday, November 5th 2009, 4:00 AM
The Police Department plans to scour civil court files for evidence of perjury, corruption and other wrongdoings.
The NYPD is trying to track down bad cops by looking for clues in big-bucks civil cases alleging police misconduct, the Daily News has learned.
Lawsuits and settlements are handled by the city's Law Department - but the Police Department plans to scour the files for evidence of perjury, corruption and other wrongdoings.
A review committee recently was formed to look at many cases, including those that cost the city more than $250,000 and those that include accusations of discrimination or retaliation.
The panel will have plenty of work. In fiscal year 2008, the city paid out $103 million to settle suits against the NYPD - including $35 million in cases that alleged improper police action, a 40% jump from 2007.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said the goal is to "identify those [suits] which may have implications for department policies and procedures."
Another catalyst for the committee is the growing concern about cops lying under oath, a source close to Internal Affairs Chief Charles Campisi told The News.
Under the old system, if a suspect sued for false arrest and it turned out the officer had lied about the circumstances, the NYPD might never find out.
Now, there's a process in place to red-flag those problems.
The reviews may mollify some critics who have long charged that the nation's largest police force does little to keep track of police misconduct suits.
But some say it doesn't go far enough because the new system excludes "nuisance" settlements - payouts of $10,000 or $20,000 in cases the city thinks it could win but would rather avoid trying because of the cost.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said leaving out the smaller cases "will undermine the whole endeavor."
City Councilman Peter Vallone, who has pushed the city for an oversight mechanism, agreed the review process will make it easier to spot police corruption.
And as a side benefit, he said, it also might root out criminals looking to make a buck off the city with frivolous suits.
He pointed to a recent News exposÃ© about a Brooklyn drug crew whose members repeatedly had sued the city - and been paid off - at the same time that they were dealing drugs.
"These criminals know if they sue, the city is likely to settle rather than go to trial," Vallone said.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board already is charged with investigating allegations of misconduct, but not every person who sues files a CCRB complaint.
A lawyer who recently secured a $300,000 settlement for a Queens man paralyzed in a confrontation with a cop believes the new reviews will reveal a pattern of corruption and bad behavior.
"You're not going to find many problems on the upper East Side," said the lawyer, Anthony Iadevaia. "But you're going to see them in Harlem and the Bronx. You're going to see the same precincts over and over again."