Officials, activists and politicos wrestle with idea of an NYPD inspector general

STEPHON JOHNSON Special to the AmNews | 6/20/2013, 10:42 a.m.
Officials, activists and politicos wrestle with idea of an NYPD inspector general

But two people from the world of academia have proposed a solution to this problem: an inspector general to oversee the NYPD.

Last fall, Faiza Patel and Andrew Sullivan of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law produced and distributed a proposal for an NYPD inspector general to elected officials, the media and other members of academia. In the 39-page document, Patel and Sullivan advocate for an inspector general who is independent of the NYPD and would be free to determine which reviews to conduct, review the NYPD's record-keeping practices on intelligence gathering, have access to the same personnel and documents as the NYPD, promote transparency and regularly report to the mayor and the City Council.

But according to NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the role of investigating and overseeing police conduct is already in good hands. In an email, Browne said that there's not one police department in the country that has as much oversight as the NYPD, and the thought of an inspector general would be "unnecessary and redundant." He made a list of the groups who are responsible for the checks and balances of the NYPD to prove it.

"Five independently elected district attorneys; each has independent authority to investigate and/or prosecute NYPD officers, subpoena records; and has (2) two United States attorneys appointed by the president, either one of which may investigate and/or prosecute NYPD to its officers; and has (3) an independent Citizens Complaint Review Board--signed into law by former Mayor [David] Dinkins--to investigate police misconduct; (4) the Mayor's Commission to Combat Police Corruption, and; (5) the department's own Internal Affairs Bureau and other inspectional entities, which together employ approximately 1,000 department personnel in addressing or preventing police misconduct or inadequacies," Browne wrote.

Browne also mentioned the NYPD's Advocate's Office, which prosecutes internal infractions that "don't rise to the level of federal or state prosecution. This office is staffed with civilian, former prosecutors and lawyers."

According to the proposal, all of that isn't enough because the entities aren't as independent and objective as they should be to produce results.

"To begin with, purely internal mechanisms like the Internal Affairs Bureau are no substitute for independent review by a neutral and objective outsider ... none of the institutions identified by the commissioner [Ray Kelly] have ever monitored department-wide polices for compliance with legal standards," read the proposal.

Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center's Liberty & National Security Program, said that the drop in the crime rate doesn't undermine the need for an inspector general. In her eyes, it increases it.

"Clearly, there are constitutional problems with the NYPD's surveillance and stop-and-frisk practices," said Patel. "These have been raised in various lawsuits. But the crime numbers also don't support the claim that New York City is safer because of stop-and-frisk. While violent crimes fell 29 percent in New York City from 2001 to 2010, other large cities experienced larger declines without relying on stop-and-frisk abuses: 59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas and 37 percent in Baltimore."