NYPD on the rocks
The NY Police Department is not doing well. John Farley has an article in Salon:
Some politicians and policy analysts are calling for a new independent agency to oversee the NYPD — something Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city won’t do.
MetroFocus looked at the problems with the NYPD’s current monitoring system and, for comparison, at how other cities have used independent government watchdogs to reduce corruption.
A Troubled Run for the NYPD
The most recent scandal emerged last week, when NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne admitted that Kelly had participated in the filming of the highly controversial police training movie, “The Third Jihad” — a claim Browne had denied just a day before.
In response to the controversy, Bloomberg said the NYPD used “terrible judgment” in showing the video to 1,500 officers.
The revelation prompted New York City Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) to release a statement in which he demanded for the NYPD “a new set of accountability mechanisms that balance our need for security, appropriate confidentiality in criminal investigations, respect for civil liberties, and telling the truth.”
Public discontent with the NYPD’s practices seems to have reached its fever pitch with the “Third Jihad” episode, as New Yorkers emerge from a year already fraught with NYPD scandals, including:
- A marked uptick in the number of stop-and-frisks
- Collaboration with the C.I.A. to spy on Muslim communities
- Infiltration of Shiite mosques to gain information on Iranian terrorists.
- The cases of the so-called “rape cops” and “pimp cop”
- Allegations of rampant ticket fixing
- Reports of excessive force used on Occupy Wall Street protesters and thearrest of credentialed journalists covering them
- Drug planting and allegations of a widespread culture of corruption in the NYPD’s drug units.
- The racially charged detainment of City Council Member Jumaane Williams
- The arrest of five officers on gun trafficking charges
The idea that the NYPD has been militarized and turned into Bloomberg’s“own army” in the years since 9/11 was widely discussed in the press last year. The Brennan Center op-ed suggests that many of the aforementioned scandals are partially the result of that transformation, and the veil of secrecy that comes with it. The writers of the op-ed lay out the problems they see with the department’s current self-monitoring system:
- The Internal Affairs Bureau only investigates incidents of individual police misconduct and corruption, not department-wide problems.
- The other monitor of the NYPD, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, doesn’t have the power to subpoena police officers in order to expose corruption, and the NYPD is famously reticent to disclose information.
- City Council rarely uses its subpoena power to force the NYPD to disclose information, which the Brennan Center op-ed attributes to politicians being fearful of appearing soft on crime, but Lander says is due to the fact that the Council doesn’t have a system for closed-door hearings or the expertise to evaluate police activities.
- Additionally, the mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption is underfunded and lacks many powers — such as the power to subpoena — necessary to do its job, reported the New York Times.
What Would an Independent Police Monitor Look Like?
Lander, who is currently fleshing out his proposal with the help of the Brennan Center, said he wants the new inspector general to be an “internal person, but somebody appointed by the mayor… who has access to confidential information who keeps that information confidential,” and reports to the Department of Investigations or the Council, reported Capital New York.
Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, has been thinking a great deal recently about what an independent agency might look like. At the end of last year, his criminal justice nonprofit published a report detailing the way police oversight agencies operate in America’s five largest cities. . .
But the real eye-opener is the NY Times article by N.R. Kleinfeld, Al Baker, and Joseph Goldstein:
The officers who stand sentinel over New York’s streets and run the station houses rarely intersect with the police commissioner. They see the man they call “boss” at Police Academy graduations, at promotions, on the news recapitulating the latest ugly crime or at police funerals. That is about it.
So it was jarring recently when some commanders got e-mails from the boss with photos of vagrants taken by his personal staff. The messages cited “a condition that requires your immediate attention.” They specified no action, but officers said those highlighted sometimes later wound up in handcuffs.
The e-mails reminded some precinct commanders of the blanket control the commissioner exerts — even the ceremonial unit of anthem singers and pallbearers reports directly to him — and of his thirst for arrests, of almost any sort. They also reminded them of something quite contrary: While his presence is always sensed, it is unusual to have contact with a commissioner who seems to have reigned for eons.
But that is Ray Kelly.
After years of undeniable success, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly is going through turbulent times, confronted with a steady drip of troublesome episodes. They include officers fixing traffic tickets, running guns and disparaging civilians on Facebook, and accusations that the Police Department encourages officers to question minorities on the streets indiscriminately. His younger son has been accused of rape, though he has not been charged and maintains his innocence. On Thursday, in an episode that Mr. Kelly said concerned him, an officer killed an 18-year-old drug suspect who was unarmed.
At 70, Mr. Kelly has now run the 52,000-member department longer than any of the city’s 41 commissioners. Almost everything about him braids through the department’s interlocking workings. Yet many inside and outside the force wonder whether the pileup of scandals and his increasingly authoritarian use of power have diminished his once-towering stature.
In Mr. Kelly’s two tenures — 16 months in the early 1990s under Mayor David N. Dinkins, and since 2002 under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — he has now served 11 ½ years. Lewis Joseph Valentine presided for just shy of 11, from 1934 to 1945, during monstrous times, when organized-crime groups sanctioned hundreds of murders.
Mr. Kelly has many fans. His public approval numbers after years of low crime remain high: two-thirds of the city’s voters were pleased with his job performance in a December poll by Quinnipiac University.
Mr. Bloomberg continues to affirm his unbending faith. Asked if he had considered replacing Mr. Kelly, he said, “With God as my witness, never once.” While waving off interest, Mr. Kelly has been promoted as a 2013 mayoral candidate; political soothsayers are dubious he will run, however, and the suggestion is heard less often these days.
But even some of those who admire Mr. Kelly wonder if his prolonged tenure has changed him. And they wonder something else more ominous: Has it begun to damage the department? . . .