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Posted on 3/19/2013
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio reiterated his call for the creation of a NYPD Inspector General, following reports that the City Council may authorize one by passing legislation. De Blasio drew a line in the sand on key provisions—demanding the Council empower “an Inspector General with teeth.”
At a press conference today, de Blasio pointed to past failures to establish oversight over the NYPD and called for an independent budget and broad subpoena powers to ensure the success of an Inspector General. De Blasio warned that a failure to include those provisions would jeopardize reform of the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy—inviting the courts to step in and set limits on police practice.
“We have seen this movie before—assurances that reform is on the way, only to see the Council substitute a half-measure for true change. This time must be different,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
In a letter to Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, de Blasio laid out the precise provisions necessary for an Inspector General to succeed:
- Budget Protection and Independence. One of the surest ways to cut the legs out from under a watchdog agency is to cut its funding, and therefore its ability to investigate issues and take action. The budget of an NYPD Inspector General must constitute its own line-item, maintained as a fixed proportion of the overall NYPD budget.
- Real Oversight and Investigatory Powers. To truly provide accountability over departmental policies and not just individual complaints, the Inspector General must be armed with the real ability to subpoena whatever people or documents it deems necessary in its investigations. It cannot rely on an outside entity for its teeth.
Read the full letter:
March 19, 2013
Hon. Speaker Christine C. Quinn
New York, NY 10007
Commissioner Raymond Kelly
New York Police Department
1 Police Plaza
New York, NY 10007
Dear Speaker Quinn and Commissioner Kelly,
A recent media report that the New York City Council may soon consider legislation creating an Inspector General for the New York Police Department raises serious questions about what that position might look like – and if it will have the real power necessary to accomplish its critical mission. We have been down this road before, only to see effective oversight hamstrung. This time must be different.
The need for meaningful and immediate reform has never been more apparent. Last week, the New York City Police Department conducted its five-millionth stop and frisk, and this week marked the start of the Floyd v. NYPD federal class action lawsuit trial about the use of stop and frisk. These two milestones are closely linked—with the overuse and misuse of its stop and frisk policy, the NYPD has risked department policy being set by judicial decree. That is no way for a government agency to operate—especially one responsible for our very safety.
Limited use of stop and frisk can be a valid policing tool as part of a broader strategy. But in these numbers and with these results—it is tearing at the fabric of police-community relations. The NYPD’s current application of stop and frisk is unwarranted, by any measure. According to an analysis provided by the New York Civil Liberties Union, 87 percent of those stopped are black or Latino, and 89 percent of stops do not produce a wanted person or a gun. And the argument that stop and frisk alone is key to reducing crime doesn't seem to hold up. Incredibly, 92 percent of precincts have reported a reduction in stop and frisks since 2011 – at the same time violent crime in New York City has decreased.
An Inspector General is critical to reforming the stop and frisk policy—but it must be truly independent to succeed. Past efforts to establish oversight at the NYPD have failed because they lacked the necessary means and authority. The Civilian Complaint Review Board has struggled ever since its inception to fill this role, only to fall victim to circumscribed power and endless cuts to its budget. The so-called reform of CCRB announced in March 2012 did little to alter that dynamic, continuing to hold the Board’s budget hostage to the yearly budget dance and political reprisal.
The Inspector General must be different. To succeed, legislation must include:
1) Budget Protection and Independence. One of the surest ways to cut the legs out from under a watchdog agency is to cut its funding and therefore its ability to investigate issues and take action. The budget of an NYPD Inspector General must constitute its own line-item, maintained as a fixed proportion of the overall NYPD budget.
2) Real Oversight and Investigatory Powers. To truly provide accountability over departmental policies, and not just individual complaints, the Inspector General must be armed with the real ability to subpoena whatever people or documents it deems necessary in its investigations. It cannot rely on an outside entity for its teeth.
These provisions of the current legislation constitute a line in the sand, and any bill that fails to include them is not worthy of being labeled reform.
If we are going to avert a six-millionth stop and frisk in the near future, we cannot allow this critical position to be watered-down and defanged during the legislative process. An Inspector General is essential to getting the reforms we need – but only if the position is armed with true oversight powers and an independent, protected budget.
Bill de Blasio
Public Advocate for the City of New York