WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
A ritual City Council hearing on next year's NYPD budget turned into a heated two hour back and forth between NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and his council critics on everything from the department's stop-and-frisk strategy to its covert surveillance of Muslim-Americans. Kelly was quick to dismiss calls from members of the council for an Inspector General to provide independent oversight of the NYPD.
"I think there is plenty of oversight that is in place right now. We have five District Attorneys. We have two U.S. Attorneys. We have the Committee to Combat Police Corruption, we have our own internal oversight," Kelly said.
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito was sharply critical of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk" policy, saying it disproportionately singled out innocent young men of color. Mark-Viverito cited a recent Quinnipiac Poll which showed a major racial divide when it came to support for the controversial strategy. She asked Kelly if it bothered him that while 59 percent of the whites surveyed approved of stop-and-frisk, just 27 percent of blacks polled supported it.
"Commissioner, I want to respect you but I want you to answer that one specific question do those numbers and gap in the way the sentiment is expressed by people of color in this city, does that have any concern to you?" Mark Viverito asked Kelly. Mark-Viverito said communities of color "felt under siege" by the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk.
"Let me tell you what should also be of concern to you, 96 percent of the shooting victims in this city are people of color, 90 percent of the people who are murdered are people of color," Kelly responded. "Now stop-and-question is one of the strategies we use. There are a whole host of others that have reduced crime significantly." He noted that murder this decade decreased by 51 percent. Kelly said he planned on meeting with the City Council's Black and Latino caucus, although no date was discussed.
Councilman Brad Lander asked for a detailed breakdown on how the NYPD funds its intelligence division and how much was being spent on the department's controversial covert surveillance of Muslim communities and college campuses. Lander noted the counter-terrorism budget was projected to grow from $29.5 million to $47.4 million, a 60 percent increase "even as we are cutting other essential services like patrol officers."
Kelly said he did not have an itemized breakdown but that the bulk of counter-terrorism efforts was paid for with federal grants.
Council members also pressed Kelly on the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on NYPD overtime, suggesting that the city could actually save money by hiring more officers. Currently the Department has 34,700 officers, down from 41,000 in 2001.
A final NYPD budget has to be approved by the end of June.