One of the services that Sakhi offers women is help navigating the numerous support systems and services available to them as survivors of violence, as women, or as residents of New York. These services include access to the criminal justice system.
In our experience, women survivors of violence who navigate the criminal justice system and deal with the police often-times express that the interaction can be a blessing in some ways but also a serious trial in their lives in other ways. Police officers can be helpful in a myriad of ways, especially in situations that require emergency interference where women are in immediate danger. Yet in cases where an officer engages in conduct unbecoming an officer, it can leave women feeling re-victimized and not in control of their own situation.
We know from experience that implementing change within these institutions can resemble the same slow-and-steady process of other large-scale movement building efforts in the social and political realms. Many steps have been taken in the city since the disturbing stories of a decade ago when excess use of force by NY Police was a frequent and frightening reality on the news. Lasting change in the NYPD has taken time and the system can always be improved. One step that we as women can take is to report cases of improper conduct by the police department and simply put, to file complaints.
Representatives from the independent city agency Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) recently visited Sakhi offices. They explained the process of filing complaints against police officers that range from unnecessary or excessive use of force, to abuse of authority, discourtesy, and use of offensive language. The CCRB expressed the importance of survivors documenting their complaints as these complaints become a permanent part of the officer’s record. Such complaints can help to correct officer behavior and provide improvement in service in the long-run.
If a woman files a complaint, she will be interviewed by the CCRB and an investigation will begin. The investigation can take some time, but the burden of the investigation falls on the CCRB rather than on the complainant. The process can result in substantiating the complaint or exonerating the officer which is then placed in that officer’s permanent record. The CCRB also finds that individual officers with complaints filed against them tend not to repeat the offensive behavior, improving the department one officer at a time.
We find that silence on subjects like police discourtesy can often be mistaken for acceptance. The city can assume that everything is fine with the police department if no one complains. The more feedback we can provide about our encounters with those in authority who are charged with protecting us, the better the chances of change being instituted for the long-term health of the police department and the city. It offers women one opportunity to take control and exert their power in a system that can seem too big to implement change. It provides an opportunity to reject silence and to speak out against the abuse of power.