Too many police departments are out of control—and NYPD is one of them
NYPD simply ignores the Mayor and acts as an autonomous agency above the law. Sarah Ryley and Sarah Smith report in ProPublica:
The New York Police Department has continued some of the most controversial elements of its nuisance abatement program, including its practice of seeking temporary orders that force people from their businesses and homes before they have had the chance to be heard in court.
In an analysis of 150 nuisance abatement cases filed over the past six months, The Daily News and ProPublica found that police have sought scores of temporary closing orders as the first step in its actions — civil legal proceedings that target places police say are scenes of illegal activity. The orders can often render entire families homeless, and cause businesses to lose significant revenue, all before they’ve been able to appear before a judge.
Last February, responding to an initial investigation of the nuisance abatement program by the Daily News and ProPublica, Mayor Bill De Blasio said the city was committed to granting fair hearings to any tenants or businesses targeted for enforcement. As well, the NYPD promised a complete review of its nuisance abatement efforts to eliminate any chance that innocent people would suffer consequences before seeing a judge.
Neither the NYPD nor the city’s Law Department would answer questions about the recent use of closing orders or comment on the department’s review of its nuisance abatement enforcement. Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill in a statement called the nuisance law “one of many important tools we use as part of precision policing to continue to drive down crime and protect the public.”
The NYPD has called the decades-old nuisance law a key component of its ability to close down locations that have allegedly become hubs of illegal activity, such as unruly nightclubs, drug locations, brothels, and more recently, bodegas selling synthetic marijuana.
However, an investigation by the Daily News and ProPublica — analyzing more than 1,100 cases filed during 2013 and the first half of 2014 — found police also frequently used the civil actions against households where one or two family members had faced drug charges that were ultimately dismissed, as well as bodegas caught selling beer to under-age undercover auxiliary officers. The orders were sought in virtually every nuisance abatement action, and the targets were almost exclusively located in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
On Wednesday, the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit legal organization, filed suit against the city in federal court in Manhattan. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three tenants, asserts that the police use the orders and the threat of permanent eviction to coerce tenants into signing away their constitutional rights. As conditions for getting the orders lifted, tenants often agreed to bar specific family members, to allow warrantless searches of their homes or businesses, and to give up their right to a hearing before being kicked out if accused of wrongdoing in the future.
The city is already defending itself against a legal challenge to the NYPD’s nuisance actions, having been sued by a Queens housekeeper whose family was left homeless for several days after being served with a closing order. The order was intended for alleged drug dealers who had previously occupied the apartment but who had moved out eight months before the order was served. It was immediately lifted after she explained the situation to a judge at her first court appearance. Still, a lawyer for the city argued in a motion filed last month that the housekeeper “was not entitled to any additional process.”
A spokesman for de Blasio said in a statement that the administration had made changes to the nuisance process, despite the recent findings from the Daily News and ProPublica.
“The administration has looked carefully at nuisance abatement protocols and has made reforms to ensure the action’s appropriate use, including shortening the timeline between criminal allegations and abatement action and ensuring that individuals who settle abatement actions are afforded greater protections and judicial involvement,” the statement said. “In instances of residential abatement action, we work to exclude as few people as necessary from the home, determine that the persons accused of wrongdoing still occupy the home, and have all but eliminated the use of the ex parte order.” (Ex parte is the Latin term for an order sought without the other party present.)
The News and ProPublica’s analysis of recent nuisance abatement actions indicates that while the NYPD filed very few cases after announcing its formal review of the program, enforcement began picking up in May. Last month, the police filed 40 cases.
The NYPD sought ex parte closing orders in at least 14 of 44 cases involving homes over the past six months, and judges approved roughly half of those requests.
In the remainder of the cases, the NYPD tailored its ex parte filings against homes to limit those affected to “all individuals arrested within the subject premises within the past year and any and all persons acting individually or in concert with them.”
But not everyone arrested is guilty of a crime. . .