NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — City lawmakers reached a deal Tuesday to install an inspector general to monitor the New York Police Department, a plan galvanized by outrage over its extensive use of the tactic known as stop and frisk and its widespread spying on Muslims.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced the pact on creating a new watchdog for the nation’s biggest police department and said talks were progressing on three companion proposals to set new rules surrounding stop and frisk, including banning racial profiling.
“We came to a very important agreement” on the plan for an inspector general, which would be housed within the city’s existing Department of Investigation, Quinn said by phone Tuesday. The agency that acts as an inspector general for many other arms of the city government, but it historically hasn’t kept tabs on the NYPD.
The IG “will enhance the effectiveness of the department, and at the same time will increase the public’s confidence in the police force,” Quinn said in a statement.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne reacted to the news Tuesday afternoon, saying that “No police department in America has more oversight than the NYPD,” and that “its intelligence investigations are subject to the Federal court-supervised Handschu accord.”
“Each of five separately elected district attorneys has authority to investigate the NYPD, as does each of two United States Attorneys, not to mention the New York State Attorney General, along with the independent Civilian Complaint Review Board and the Mayor’s Commission on Police Corruption,” Browne said in a statement.
IG WON’T BE ‘TOOTHLESS TIGER’
The proposal has been championed by civil liberties advocates and others troubled by some of the department’s practices.
The movement on the measures comes amid a federal trial over the department’s use of stop and frisk, and it follows a series of stories by The Associated Press that revealed how city police systematically listened in on sermons, hung out at cafes and other public places, infiltrated colleges and photographed people as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks.
The inspector general would have subpoena power, Quinn said.
“That’s a critical component in making this a really useful tool for the public,” Quinn told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “We don’t want this to be a toothless tiger, we want this to be a real reform.”
The oversight will bring the NYPD in line with departments from other big cities and the federal government, Quinn said. The speaker criticized those, including fellow mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, who have questioned why it took so long for her to act on the bill.
“It’s easy for people who are outside of the process to point fingers and write press releases. It is much tougher to write legislation that hits the nail on the head and will remain intact if taken to court,” Quinn told Silverman.
As Silverman reported, a source close to the negotiations said Quinn was ready to act on this months ago but advocates pushed for a thorough public review process. Quinn said the City Council will vote by early spring. There are enough votes to make it veto-proof, Silverman reported.
‘UNCONSCIONABLE’ WASTE OF RESOURCES
Deputy Commissioner Browne had even more to say to cement his point that the NYPD already has enough oversight.
“Internally, the NYPD devotes about the same number of personnel to oversight as it does to counterterrorism, approximately 1,000, comprising the nation’s most robust and effective Internal Affairs Bureau, as well as inspectional units throughout the department,” he said.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association also weighed in on Tuesday evening, saying the NYPD is “already one of the most closely monitored both internally and externally.”
“It is unconscionable to waste valuable resources on a duplicative bureaucracy like an Inspector General’s Office when we are short 7,000 police officers,” president Pat Lynch said. “It’s time for the City Council to step up and support the men and women of the NYPD who have done such an outstanding job keeping this city safe while being consistently short changed in the area of staffing.”
BLOOMBERG VS. QUINN?
The pact could set up a showdown between the council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration has opposed the idea as unnecessary. Quinn said she believed the council had the votes to pass the plan and override a mayoral veto, if necessary.
The NYPD has said that its surveillance is legal and that stop and frisk — a technique of stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people who are seen as acting suspiciously but who don’t necessarily meet the probable-cause standard for arrest — has helped drive crime down to record lows and save lives by taking weapons off the street. About 5 million people have been stopped during the past decade, mostly black and Hispanic men.
The other proposals under discussion would require officers to explain why they are stopping people, tell them when they have a right to refuse a search and hand out business cards identifying themselves. Another would give people more latitude to sue over stops they considered biased.
Councilmen Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, who sponsored all the proposals, said they appreciated the “productive negotiations,” but lawmakers needed to go further than the inspector general proposal.
“Any legislative response by the City Council should at a minimum prohibit discriminatory policing, based on racial or other profiling,” they said in a statement. “New York will only be truly safe when communities trust the police.”
Reaction to the idea was mixed Tuesday evening.
One Harlem woman told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg that an inspector general couldn’t hurt the NYPD.
“Every time I read the newspaper, every time I hear the radio, it’s another story about the NYPD being overly aggressive with a minority group,” she said.
The woman said an inspector general could go a long way toward improving relations with police. But she fears it is only a symbolic gesture.
“To be honest with you, if I think that will ever happen, no,” she said. “But it’s reassuring to know that at least they still care to pretend.”
Anthony from Bushwick said the inspector must be independent.
“An outside third party would be great,” he said.
Some people just called it another layer of bureaucracy, while others said the Civilian Complaint Review Board and Internal Affairs are sufficient.
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