Victims of mistaken New York City Police Department raids are told that their only official recourse is to notify the Civilian Complaint Review Board. But Newsday reports that the agency exonerates officers as long as they raided the address specified in the search warrant. Long before a recent raid that scared Alberta Spruill to death in Harlem, review board investigators came across wrong-door raids, but agency officials usually dismissed those complaints, saying they did not have the authority to probe warrants.
Former board investigators told Newsday the agency could have done more to draw attention to the frequency of wrong-door raids and the kind of errors highlighted in the Spruill case, such as faulty tips from confidential informants or the failure to double-check the information before a raid.
A board member who did not want to be identified conceded that such complaints were usually exonerated, but added, “We can’t look behind the warrant. … If the warrant said ‘no knock,’ there is no direct abuse of authority.” The board’s executive director, Florence Finkle, acknowledged the role of the agency is limited when it comes to complaints about mistaken raids. “We don’t have the ability nor should it be our role to question a judge’s decision about whether the police have enough probable cause to obtain a warrant,” she said.
Said a former board member: “Where we may have dropped the ball is that we were so concerned about individual cases that we haven’t been on top of issues where we perceived a trend … “There was a problem, and it existed for awhile.”