Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
Council Members Propose NYPD Oversight Amid Criticism
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 02:38 PM
About two dozen City Council members are introducing legislation Wednesday to create an inspector general that would monitor the NYPD.
The calls for oversight come as rancor continues to swell over the police department's stop-and-frisk practices and news reports about the NYPD's surveillance of Muslim communities within and outside of New York City.
An inspector general would have authority to review NYPD policies, conduct investigations with subpoena power and recommend changes to the department. Reports would be issued semiannually.
Although co-sponsors Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams call the position an "independent" monitor, it would be funded by the Council and appointed by the mayor. The IG could also be removed by the mayor at any time with only 30 days' notice.
Williams said the bill sets up ways to protect the independence of the IG, by mandating a seven-year term so he or she could theoretically outlast a mayoral term, and providing that the mayor can only remove the IG with cause.
Lander said the office is "not a panacea," and its "independence" is rooted in the fact that the IG would not report to the police commissioner.
"Doing the investigations, providing transparency about what the investigations find and recommending corrective action," Lander said, "and then continuing to identify whether there has been follow-up by the NYPD twice a year, we believe will help go a long way."
In addition, the bill's sponsors point out, the inspector general would not be confined to investigating specific instances of police misconduct, as the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police watchdog organization, is confined.
The IG would have the power to issue non-binding recommendations.
But Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday described the NYPD as the “most regulated department” in the city, and said he didn’t know if the City Council had the authority to pass a bill forcing the mayor to appoint an inspector general.
“We have enough supervision and oversight,” he said, pointing out that two U.S. Attorneys, five District Attorneys, along with the CCRB, provide monitoring.
Police spokesman Paul Browne said the department's own Internal Affairs Bureau provides rigorous oversight over police misconduct.
But NYPD critics say those oversight mechanisms can only react to individual cases of police misconduct after-the-fact, while an inspector general can assess department-wide policies.
Both the FBI and CIA have inspectors general that oversee their practices. Police departments in major cities across the country also have independent monitors, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Agencies within New York City are under some form of independent oversight as well, such as the Departments of Education, Parks, Housing, Sanitation, Correction and the FDNY.
"Matter of fact, if there's an agency that should have an independent inspector general, it probably should be the seventh largest army in the world — the one the mayor has called his private army," Williams said, referring to remarks Bloomberg made during a speech at MIT last November.
Udi Ofer of the New York Civil Liberties Union said a perfect issue for the IG to tackle is the alleged use of quotas by the department to keep arrests, summonses and street stops up.
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have denied the department follows quotes but have acknowledged the use of performance goals. Ofer said the IG could examine whether those goals are leading to downward pressure on officers to make unlawful arrests or manipulate data, and it could then recommend reforms to the department's data-driven policies.
The bill would set up a website for the public to recommend policing issues for the IG to investigate.
The legislation is being introduced as part of a package of bills pushing for police reform that would beef up the bans against racial profiling and unlawful searches and require officers to identify themselves during a stop and frisk.
The bill's sponsors will need to secure support from two-thirds of the Council's 51 members, in order to circumvent the mayor's expected veto of the measure.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn declined to comment on the bill Wednesday, saying she has yet to fully review the proposal.