Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Independent Monitor for the Police Is Proposed - New York Times

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency have inspectors general who function as independent monitors. So do the police departments of major cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as the nation’s capital. Even most New York City agencies, like the Education Department and the Housing Authority, have similar monitors.

But not the New York Police Department.

About two dozen members of the City Council planned to introduce a bill on Wednesday that would create an office of the inspector general to monitor the police and “conduct independent reviews of the department’s policies, practices, programs and operations.”

The council members said that there has never been a more opportune time to increase oversight over so powerful an agency, especially in light of the department’s stop-and-frisk policy, surveillance of Muslim groups, questions over allegedly manipulated arrest data and other recent controversies involving the police.

“This kind of independent oversight can act as an early-warning system for a very large agency,” said Richard M. Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, which has worked closely with council members on the legislation.

It is not yet clear how much clout the new inspector general would have. The bill provides that the inspector general, who would be appointed by the mayor, would have subpoena power, but that the office’s budget and investigative staff would be determined by the City Council.

It is highly unlikely that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg would support the bill. But with the sponsors confident that they can achieve a veto-proof majority of two-thirds of the Council’s 51 members, they are applying political pressure on Christine M. Quinn, the Council speaker, who has been more muted in her criticisms of police practices than her likely rivals in next year’s race for mayor.

A spokesman for Ms. Quinn, Jamie McShane, said she had not yet seen the bill but promised a “full legislative review.”

The Police Department called the idea of an inspector general unnecessary. Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, said the department was “probably under more scrutiny than any other police agency, probably in the world” and was subject to oversight by two United States attorneys, five district attorneys, the Civilian Complaint Review Board and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption.

Mr. Browne also said that the department had made a “major commitment” to departmental oversight, with 1,000 people assigned to its Internal Affairs Bureau and other “integrity control” units, roughly the same number as are assigned to its counterterrorism operation.

An inspector general “may sound good to the sponsors on paper, but it appears to the department to be just redundant,” Mr. Browne said. No inspector general, he said, “is going to ever outperform” the Internal Affairs Bureau.“There’s nothing more effective than an internal affairs bureau with teeth.”

The bill being introduced on Wednesday is part of a package of legislation being pushed by a new coalition called Communities United for Police Reform that would, among other goals, address racial profiling and require that people who are stopped and frisked by the police be given an explanation for the stop, and possibly a “receipt.”

But what would make the proposed inspector general’s office different from the other oversight mechanisms mentioned by Mr. Browne is that its mission would be geared toward systemic issues and long-term reforms. Currently, said Udi Ofer, director of advocacy for the New York Civil Liberties Union, most of the scrutiny is reactive, focused on specific police episodes â€" especially in accusations of misconduct and corruption â€" and on a “few bad apples,” rather than broader policies and programs.

The bill provides that the inspector general would serve a seven-year term, with the option of renewing once. It stipulates that the appointee cannot be a member of the Police Department or have served in the department in the past 10 years.

Councilman Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who is one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said that ideally, an inspector general would be a former prosecutor or someone with experience working at a criminal justice agency like the Justice Department.

As for the proposed office’s cost and staffing, supporters noted that the special commissioner of investigation monitoring the Education Department had a staff of 60 and an annual budget of $5.1 million. In Chicago, which has 12,500 police officers, roughly one-third of those in the New York Police Department, the Independent Police Review Authority has a $7.8 million budget and a staff of 87.

“People hire consultants to take a fresh look at things all the time,” said Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat who is another sponsor. “I’m confounded that anybody who claims that they’re into transparency would not be for this bill.”

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