Councilman says Council oversight of the NYPD isn’t enough, wants an inspector general

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Brad Lander. (Drum Major Institute via flickr)
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Following a string of reports alleging police misconduct, City Councilman Brad Lander said today he wants to create a new inspector general's office to oversee the department. The idea was proposed this morning in a New York Times op-ed written by two lawyers with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law.

"We all want the NYPD following criminal leads and doing investigations," Lander said in an interview this morning. "But there is a big difference between a specific criminal lead and an investigation and saying some version of 'Hey, we've heard that some Muslims are out to do us harm. Let's surveil them all.'"

Lander, a freshman Democrat who represents Park Slope and helped found the Council's Progressive Caucus, said, "Unfortunately, right now, the NYPD has not given me any confidence, has not given the public any confidence that somebody's paying attention to the difference."

Last summer, the Associated Press began publishing detailed accounts of an NYPD counterterrorism program which included monitoring Moroccan restaurants, tracking Imams and spying on Muslim students at local colleges. Commissioner Ray Kelly has called the stories inaccurate but has not elaborated. In total, there have been 28 A.P. stories and no retractions or corrections.

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Kelly's testimony in front of the City Council after the A.P. stories began appearing "raised more questions than it answered," Lander said today.

Lander said he's working out the details with the Brennan Center about how the new I.G.'s office would work. A more formal proposal could be announced in later in the spring.

For now, he described the I.G. as an "internal person, but somebody appointed by the mayor" and "who has access to confidential information who keeps that information confidential." The I.G. would make periodic reports either to the Department of Investigations or the Council, said Lander.

I asked Lander how this watchdog function would differ from what the City Council does. The chairman of the Council's public safety committee, Peter Vallone Jr., has subpoena power, holds hearings about the agency and said he is regularly kept abreast about NYPD's confidential activity.

Lander said the Council should hold more hearings and ask "some big-picture questions," but a more detailed look at specific allegations needs to be handled privately.

"The Council is not the right place to discuss specific leads," Lander said. "The only way to know what they'll find, between a real criminal lead and a vague suspicion, is to talk about that information and the details. And the Council is not the right place for that. We don't have a vehicle for closed-door hearings and we don't have the expertise to evaluate and judge that information anyway."

Asked whether he thought the I.G. should have subpoena power, Lander said he hoped that wouldn't be necessary.

It's not clear Lander's proposal could get through the Council, regardless of how much support it may have among the members. Both the speaker, Christine Quinn, and Vallone have a good working relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the police department. And the mayor hasn't shown any signs of being disatisfied with the oversight mechanisms that are already in place.

Bloomberg recently announced additional staffing for the Mayor's Commission to Combat Police Corruption, but the commission lacks subpoena power and, as Al Baker of the Times wrote, "relies on the department’s good will for relevant information."

The city's Department of Investigations lists the NYPD as one of the agencies that has an "internal" inspector general. The NYPD web site identifies Martin Karopkin as the "Deputy Commissioner [of] Trials with the New York City Police Department."

A 2008 Times story about Karopkin's work shed led on the department's trial-like internal process for determining wrongdoing by officers. The proceedings are open to the public, defendants cannot invoke the right to remain silent and the ruling from the judge—who is appointed by the police commissioner—can be overruled, by the police commissioner.