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

Earlier this month, the NYPD released data from its stop-and-frisk activities after persistent requests from the New York Civil Liberties Union. The stats, from the year 2011, show that out of the 685,724 people who were stopped or detained under "reasonable suspicion," almost 90 percent of them were either Black or Latino. Overall, Blacks and Latinos make up 53 percent of the city's population.

At around the same time of the report's release, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the Clean Halls Program violated the constitutional rights of New York City residents. According to Scheindlin, for years the NYPD should have known (or already knew) that its officers had routinely violated constitutional rights through Clean Halls. Scheindlin said that the NYPD failed to properly train officers about when it was legal to make trespass stops in private residents. Scheindlin eventually suspended her ruling while the NYPD and the city made an appeal, but residents are pushing back against NYPD policies.

One of those people fighting against current NYPD policies is Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform. Kang's group, made up of several organizations that advocate for police reforms that eliminate discrimination and improve accountability, has been a staunch advocate for ending the unlawful use of stop-and-frisk (a reform she feels is useful when done properly. She's also a fan of the inspector general idea.

"The NYPD currently lacks strong, independent oversight to protect the rights of New Yorkers from systemic rights abuses--that isn't provided by CCRB, Internal Affairs Bureau or any other existing entity," said Kang. "Establishing an inspector general would provide effective oversight with subpoena power and would be an important first step in ensuring New Yorkers have faith that the NYPD is accountable for their actions."

But Bloomberg argued during his final State of the City Address that stop-and-frisk was a part of the police's success in bringing down the crime rate.

"While the incarceration rate across America has increased by 6 percent over the past decade here in New York City, we've reduced it by 32 percent," said Bloomberg. "We've done it through proactive, targeted policing that prevents crime, and that includes stopping and questioning people who are acting suspiciously or who fit the description of a suspect. I understand that innocent people don't like to be stopped, but innocent people don't like to be shot and killed either. Stops take hundreds of guns off the street each year."

To people like Eugene O'Donnell, a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD officer, Bloomberg's remarks demonstrated the need for an inspector general. O'Donnell said that not only can the mayor and the Police Department not be trusted regarding conduct, but the alleged cost of hiring another overseer would be offset by the decrease in lawsuits.

"The city and its high officials are potentially liable for civil and criminal violations in connection with these activities," said O'Donnell, who participated in a panel discussion regarding an inspector general last fall. "Because tracking alleged 'Middle Eastern'-inspired terrorist actors inevitably involves allegations of racial, ethnic and religious profiling--issues that have caused consternation over the course of American history--the department must tread cautiously, deliberately and thoughtfully here on the basis of credible, solid, verifiable evidence and not based on whim, surmise or caprice.