Thursday, October 25, 2012

NYPD | Does It Need an Inspector General?

The new wing of John Jay College, fronting on 11th Avenue, NYC. All photos by JT Marlin.
October 25, 2012 - Does the New York City Police Department need an Inspector-General?

That was the question before a panel at John Jay College this morning. The idea has been championed by the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.

It is a strong alliance. John Jay College has just gone through a large expansion in its capacity, and the Brennan Center is a fierce fighter for the underdogs of the American public - and more narrowly the NYC public.

I attended the meeting at the suggestion of the NJ Institute for Social Justice, which I serve as Chief Economist. These notes on the meeting are my personal impressions. Any opinions expressed here are my own and are not necessarily those of the NJISJ.

One can't be engaged in policy issues in the NYC area without running into both John Jay and the Brennan Center. When I was investigating the underground economy as Chief Economist for the NYC Comptroller's Office, the Brennan Center invited me to a meeting of their street vendors association. Vendors made a strenuous case to me that they try to stay within the boundaries of the law. However, they said, these boundaries often change in arbitrary ways. Police interpretation of the law changes and the vendors are not always notified.

Elected officials ordinarily support the Police Commissioner and NYPD because police officers put their lives on the line and the public and their representatives can never be too grateful for that. But we have seen too many videotapes of bad-apple officers engaged in provocation or excessive use of force to be complacent about the extent to which every individual NYPD officer observes all the rules. That is the context of the proposal for an IG.

The Proposal

The Brennan Center has put together an attractive, well-documented, 40-page report making this case:
- Counter-terrorism and intelligence operations create new concerns about civil liberties.
- Intelligence oversight has special problems because abuse of power can be hard to prove.
- Existing oversight of the NYPD is inadequate to meet current challenges.
- Court oversight doesn't address reporting and monitoring needs.
- The Inspector General idea has been tried in Washington with success.
- A Police Auditor concept has also been tried with success.
- The NYPD needs an IG or similar body.

Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College, CUNY 

The meeting was opened by John Jay President Jeremy Travis, who is riding high as the 620,000 sf, 13-story new building is finally open for business, filling in the entire area between 10th and 11th Avenues. Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center Liberty and National Security Program, introduced the meeting along with Donna Lieberman of the NY Civil Liberties Union, and then the panel members spoke in turn.

F. Warren ("Ned") Benton moderated the panel; he directs the MPA-IG track at John Jay, the only MPA program that is expressly devoted to inspection and oversight and the role of the IG. During the Q&A he emphasized the availability of standards from the association of IGs - how to do audits and reports and peer reviews.

L to R: Prof. Patrick O'Hara, Prof. Eugene O'Donnell, Ms. Faiza Patel, Prof.
Warren ("Ned") Benton, Ms. Donna Lieberman. 
Faiza Patel, Co-Director, Brennan Center

A graduate of Harvard College and NYU Law School, Ms. Patel says she is not anti-police - the NYPD is a "great department".

Rather, she is concerned about giving the NYPD a  "blank check". The stop, question and frisk program, aka "Stop and Frisk", has increased the number of random stops 600 percent.

The NYPD keeps emphasizing the importance of trust between the community and the police, but "Stop and Frisk" has frayed the community's trust. What an IG for the NYPD would do is bring in sunlight - transparency and accountability - to departmental systems. She emphasizes, as she did (with Elizabeth Goitein) in a New York Times Op-Ed on January 30, that her interest is not so much individual cases, but systematic inadequacies in procedures for training and operations.

Professor Patrick O'Hara, John Jay

Professor O'Hara led the development of the John Jay IG program. His writing addresses the dysfunctions in a police department that can generate problems and lack of accountability. In his comments he shows how existing NYPD oversight bodies - Internal Affairs and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption and the Civilian Complaint Review Board - had a role to play in processing individual complaints and cases but they did not address systemic NYPD problems. They and the Department of Investigation don't have the "structural positioning" that is needed to deal with systemic problems.

The IG, he says, would not be "overkill". What no existing body can do, and what the NYPD needs, he says, is what an IG would make possible - a reporting relationship of the NYPD to a body that will "let the chips fall where they may" ("fiat justitia, ruat caelum").

The Governor of Indiana has described the IG in Indiana as a "profit center" because it improves the state's efficiency and effectiveness. The IG has the "'structural logic" to get the job done, whether the individuals who staff the IG are brilliant or inept. It is the best way to assess the NYPD's concept of "policing by the numbers".

He did not think it should be viewed as a narrowly defined entity concerned only with civil liberties abuses. The IG concept has worked in NYC in corrections, education, fire, sanitation. The pedigree has been proven at the Federal level. It is an idea whose time may have come.

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director, NYCLU

NYC Councilwoman Brewer, standing in back..
Donna Lieberman heads up the NYCLU, having previously worked as a criminal defense attorney for the Legal Aid Society in the South Bronx office. She is easy to hear over the noise of the HVAC, which was noted afterwards by several older listeners who complained about the audio system or how it was utilized.  She believes that the NYPD can't do its job without an IG, whether its new anti-terrorism job or its traditional law-and-order job.

"It is asking too much of the City Council to do the NYPD oversight, although this is not to let them off the hook." (Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Chair of the Technology Committee of the City Council, attended part of the meeting.) The NYPD is made "a laughingstock" on television news or drama programs for its lack of oversight. She mentions the 17-year-old who caught an officer on tape calling him a "mutt".

She claims there is a "racist animus" in the NYPD and wonders who is going to "connect the dots". The Mayor delegates - the Rand Report recommendations were inadequate.

She singled out the school safety program as having no policy oversight. The result of the deficiencies is a huge cost in litigation, lost credibility and a loss of rights among the citizenry. Kids lose their faith in school.

Merrick Bobb, Special Counsel,  LA County Board of Supervisors


Merrick Bobb, Special Counsel, LA Co. Board
of Supervisors
Bobb's role is similar to that of an IG. He says that an IG needs unfettered access to the police and other agencies, and its needs adequate facilities and staff. A starved IG is not going to be effective. The NYPD is a big department and a shoestring budget won't get the IG job done.

He favors the idea behind the funding of the Independent Budget Office in New York City, which has a budget linked to 10 percent of the OMB budget.

The IG's office needs to be "insulated from the politics of the moment". It needs lawyers, yes, but also a strong quantitative capability, people who are sophisticated at statistical analysis and can make judgments based on seeing reports by precincts and longitudinal studies of statistics over time.

Question Period

Q1. The first questioner, a woman in a headscarf, asks whether the IG's office would be legal under state law. If not, this is all a waste of time.
A. Lieberman says that the IG is needed for transparency and the issue of legality is not so clear.

Bruce Rosen ("Citizen"), far right, asks question.
Q2. A man who identifies himself as "a citizen" and whom I recognize as Bruce Rosen, notes that during the Occupy Wall Street activities the police officers were pulling people away from the Wall Street bull. Why were they doing that? In what way was that considered worthy of special protection by the police?
A. Yes, the Mayor and prosecutors got a "free pass" on a lot of what went on.

Q3. The City Council tried to set up an IG type monitor but it doesn't have the power to do this.
A. Mayor Bloomberg doesn't think the NYPD needs this. The greatest expansion of oversight was under Mayor Dinkins. What the Mayor and the public need to consider, says Patel, is the costs of the existing system with the NYPD having no IG, i.e., the settlements that have to be negotiated and the lawyers that need to be hired.

Q4. Yonkers set up an IG type monitor but the office has found it hard to pursue its investigations in the face of police department resistance.
A. The NYC Campaign Finance Board is a good model. By appointing strong leadership it has been able to get the job done.