Kelly and Bloomberg say police bills boost gangs and ‘al-Qaeda wannabes’

Bloomberg and police officials. (Azi Paybarah via flickr)
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In a last-ditch effort to block two bills from passing the City Council, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and top law enforcement officials said city police officers will be disincentivized from doing police work and keeping the public safe if those bills became law.

Speaking at the headquarters of the New York Police Department, the mayor said one bill would mean "every tort lawyer is going to buy a new house and a new car, right away. They don't even have to wait for the cases to come in," since the bill would expose the police department and every officer to civil lawsuits over allegedly improper stops and interactions with the public.

Bloomberg said a second bill, creating an inspector general for the NYPD, would allow "gang members to make anonymous complaints" about officers. And "the inspector general would have to review and the NYPD would have to dedicate time and resources to answering the gang members' anonymous complaints."

Bloomberg said that would tie up valuable resources and manpower.

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New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the new bills would embolden street criminals and would-be terrorists. "Take heart, al-Qaeda wannabes," Kelly said. "Because the City Council has found a way to undermine our partners that the NYPD has carefully constructed over the past decade [with] both domestic and foreign entities."

Rather than risk having their activity investigated by a NYPD inspector general, those "partners" will "simply walk away," said Kelly.

Bloomberg and Kelly were joined by law enforcement union officials, the district attorneys for Queens and Staten Island and the former district attorney for Manhattan, Robert Morgenthau.

Morgenthau recalled how unmotivated police officers were in 1975, when, he said, he convinced then-mayor Abe Beame to survey the drug- and crime-infested neighborhood of Alphabet City.

"They tried to sell the mayor drugs," Morgenthau recalled. "That's what it was like in 1975, 1976."

He warned that New York City could go once again become that type of environment if the two bills under consideration by the City Council were enacted into law.

I asked Bloomberg to elaborate on how gang members could exploit the inspector general's office, and why that isn't a problem now.

He said "Well, because today you have to identify yourself if you're going to make complaint and you have to have some substance."

The mayor suggested anonymous complaints about police offers are not currently investigated.

When asked by a Times reporter if he would spend money running ads against lawmakers who voted for these bills, similar to what he's done on the national level regarding gun control laws in Washington, the mayor demurred. The bills are expected to be voted on later this week and "you don't spend money afterwards," he said.

One television reporter asked why agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation could operate with an inspector general, the mayor said, "The F.B.I. isn't an organization that's on the streets every day. We have 35,000 people on the streets of this city, uniformed people."

He added, "It's a very different kind of policing with a very different objective" and "I have no idea whether the F.B.I. is happy with it or not."

Toward the end of the nearly hour-long press press conference, a reporter from WPIX noted that Bloomberg was surrounded at the press conference by "good, respected, strong, white men" responding to complaints of racial profiling, and asked if "this presentation" may be "backfiring."

(One black man had been present at the press conference—Philip Banks, the new chief of department—but had stepped away from the podium.)

"Why would it backfire?" Bloomberg said. "You're safer when you go out on to the street."