As part of its effort to keep New York safe from terrorism, the NYPD has vastly expanded its intelligence operations and has been given increased authority in this realm. 1000 police officers and at least $100 million are allocated to this endeavor. The Brennan Center’s Proposal for an NYPD Inspector General shows that oversight mechanisms have not kept pace with the police’s new and expanded roles and recommends that an independent inspector general be established for the NYPD.
Federal intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, have operated for decades with inspectors general. Indeed, as federal agencies have become increasingly involved in domestic intelligence operations, Congress has repeatedly improved oversight. Major police departments too, have found inspectors general to be valuable. The LAPD, for example, operates with an independent inspector general and has seen major drops in crime over the last decade.
The Police Commissioner and a host of law enforcement officials tell us that it is critical that the police build relationships of trust with the communities they serve. An NYPD inspector general would contribute to improving these relationships by increasing transparency and promoting confidence in the police.
Over the last decade, the New York City Police Department (NYPD), like state and local law enforcement agencies around the country, has become increasingly involved in collecting counterterrorism intelligence. But the NYPD’s counterterrorism and intelligence gathering operations are unique among municipal police departments, both in size and character. The magnitude of these operations vastly exceeds that of similar efforts in other major cities: In 2010, the NYPD’s budget for counterterrorism and intelligence was over $100 million and the two divisions reportedly employed 1000 officers. Equally important, while New York City police cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on counterterrorism matters, they also conduct intelligence operations and investigations completely separate from federal authorities. The creation of this stand-alone capability was a stated goal of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, and is an accomplishment frequently highlighted by the Department.
Unlike the FBI and other national intelligence agencies, the NYPD’s sizable counterterrorism and intelligence operations operate largely free from independent oversight. Currently, oversight of the NYPD – as conducted by the Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, the Commission to Combat Police Corruption and the Civilian Complaint Review Board – focuses almost exclusively on police corruption and individual police misconduct. The City-wide Department of Investigation similarly focuses on corruption, incompetence, and misconduct in 300 municipal agencies and, in any event, does not cover the police. The City Council has supervisory jurisdiction over the police, but has rarely examined its intelligence operations. Control mechanisms established by a 1980s consent decree largely have been eliminated.
In the federal system, Congressional supervision informed by reports from independent inspectors general has been a crucial tool for increasing transparency, accountability, and effectiveness in the realm of intelligence and counterterrorism. This oversight system was developed in the wake of the 1970s Congressional investigations into the FBI’s and the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) illegal collection of intelligence about Americans, and both agencies have operated for decades under its strictures. Even after the September 11th attacks, this system continues to function well and has, in fact, been strengthened. The FBI, in particular, has benefitted from a robust inspector general who has contributed to the effectiveness of its counterterrorism programs through reviews of issues ranging from the need for the Bureau to develop a comprehensive risk assessment of the terrorist threat to its use of the new intelligence techniques that have been authorized over the last decade.
Given that the NYPD has built an intelligence and counterterrorism capability more in line with the FBI than a traditional urban police force, it is time to build an oversight structure that is appropriate for its size and functions. An independent inspector general should be established for the NYPD. This would be an enormous step forward for police accountability and oversight for several reasons:
• ENSURING TRANSPARENCY – The inspector general would be in a position to make policing more transparent, thus allowing the Mayor and the City Council to better exercise their oversight responsibilities and increase public confidence in policing. Reliable information about how policies and legal constraints are implemented is especially important in the context of intelligence operations, the specifics of which are often necessarily concealed.
• PROTECTING CIVIL LIBERTIES – As the NYPD continues its important work of keeping New Yorkers safe, the inspector general would have the mandate, expertise, and perspective to make sure that it does so consistent with our constitutionally guaranteed liberties.
• REFORMING FROM WITHIN – The inspector general would be in a position to work with the police cooperatively to address any problems in the Department’s operations and to keep track of progress.
An Inspector General for the Police
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York is firmly opposed to a bill pending in the City Council that would make the nation’s largest police department subject to oversight by an inspector general with broad powers to review departmental policies — including controversial policies that involve stop-and-frisk tactics. Inspectors general are a common feature in other city divisions, in federal agencies like the F.B.I. and C.I.A., and in police departments in Los Angeles and elsewhere. But the mayor says there is no need for such an office in New York because crime is at an all-time low and the department is working well under its current leadership.
Even if we accepted that appraisal — and we do not — there is no guarantee the department will continue to function well under the next police commissioner or the one after that. The department has a long history of episodic misconduct that erupts every time the leadership falls down on the job.
The last time that happened, as documented by the Mollen Commission Report in 1994, the department’s leadership and Internal Affairs Bureau were found to be looking the other way while the police trafficked weapons and sold protection to drug dealers. The commission’s central recommendation — that the city create a strong independent body to monitor the police — remains as relevant today as it was during that scandal nearly 20 years ago.
The Mollen investigation was mainly concerned with criminal acts by rogue cops. In recent years, however, the department’s broader policies have come under fire, underscoring the need for stronger oversight. Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the department, with 34,500 officers, has become one of the largest intelligence-gathering operations in the world, with powers that extend into neighboring states and virtually no outside check on this aspect of its work. Another concern is the increasingly unpopular stop-and-frisk program, under which mainly black and Hispanic New Yorkers, nearly all of them innocent, are stopped and searched on the street. This happened nearly 700,000 times last year. Three lawsuits against the stop-and-frisk system are pending in a federal court that has already criticized the department for its indifference to constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
The two external police oversight offices are not equipped to deal with policy issues. The Civilian Complaint Review Board, established in 1993, deals mainly with individual cases of officer misconduct. The Commission to Combat Police Corruption, created by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the wake of the Mollen revelations, lacks subpoena power. In 2005, when the commission tried to determine whether officials were deliberately downgrading crime to make the publicly reported numbers look good, the department simply stonewalled the inquiry.
Creating an inspector general’s office could help address these shortcomings. Under a bill that 30 of the City Council’s 51 members have signed, the Council would forward a list of candidates to the mayor, who would then have the authority to name an inspector general.
The inspector would serve a seven-year term. He or she would review and report to the public on policies and practices and make periodic recommendations on how to improve them. Because the inspector would have subpoena power, the police department could no longer just say no when asked to produce information.
An inspector general is not a foolproof answer. But the mechanism has worked well elsewhere and could only strengthen oversight in a police department that clearly needs it.
NYC Council, Debi Rose, scrutinize NYPD’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy
The tactics used by New York police officers as they patrol the city streets — which stirred controversy earlier this year– are now
coming under legislative scrutiny.
A public hearing Wednesday at City Hall will vet a set of bills known as the Community Safety Act, The legislation would put into law changes to the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy, leaving less wiggle room for officers making arrests.
As part of the legislation, residents who believe they’ve been unlawfully stopped could sue the NYPD; officers would be prohibited from considering race, age, sex and other factors when deciding to stop someone; a new inspector general’s office would be created to oversee the department; and officers would be required to obtain proof that subjects consented to being searched after they were stopped.
Public hearings on the proposals will also be held in upcoming weeks in Brooklyn and Queens.
Meanwhile Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore) — an outspoken critic of “stop-and-frisk” is co-hosting a symposium with the New York Law School Program in Law & Journalism entitled “Beyond the Rhetoric: A Dialogue on Stop, Question & Frisk” Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at New York Law School.
The free-and-open-to-the-public event will address such questions as: What is the community impact of this policy? What are its legal underpinnings? Are there viable alternative, effective policing practices that maintain a reasonable level of public safety? This forum will look at these issues through panel discussions moderated by Ms. Rose.
“As the New York City Council engages in a series of hearings on the NYPD policy of Stop, Question and Frisk this month, I hope that this event can continue the meaningful discussion and bring together community leaders to have a balanced dialogue of the practices at hand” said Ms. Rose, who chairs the City Council’s Civil Rights Committee.
Representatives from The Children’s Aid Society, the Legal Aid Society, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, among other organizations, will discuss the impact the policy has had on various communities in New York City. Also participating will be New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams.
The policy of stopping and searching potential suspects came under fire this summer, as civil rights groups and others protested what they characterized as racial profiling in determining who would be stopped, and the practice was put to the test with the filing of a federal Civil Rights suit. Critics have also decried the harsh treatment they say is often meted out by police during such arrests.
The New York City Police Department and the mayor have strongly defended “stop-and-frisk” as one of many tools necessary to keep the city safe.