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Lawmakers Propose Restrictions on Prison Solitary Confinement


Perkins

State Sen. Bill Perkins, a sponsor of the proposed HALT Solitary Confinement Act, discusses the bill at a community forum Friday in Manhattan. Photo by Bernadette Evangelist.


More than 5,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement in New York’s state prisons and city jails - a condition two legislators hope to change by reforming what they see as a torturous practice.

State Sen. Bill Perkins (D.-Harlem) and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D.-Queens) introduced a bill Friday that that would drastically scale back the use of solitary confinement, which isolates an inmate in a small cell for 22 or more hours per day.

Their proposal, the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, would cap solitary terms at 15 days. It also calls for the use of therapy and rehabilitation units as alternatives to isolating inmates in tiny cells, except in the most egregious cases.

Jessica Casanova, a family worker from East Harlem said she first became aware of special housing units (SHU), as solitary is called in the prison system, two years ago when she received a disconcerting letter from her nephew Juan Díaz.

In the letter, her nephew called SHU a "steel coffin," and wrote that, "I'm breathing, but I'm dead," Casanova said Friday.

Díaz, 32, was sentenced to 46 years to life after his conviction in 2004 on charges that accused him of robbing and beating to death a handicapped man. He was accused in November of using a homemade weapon to stab a prison guard in the head and abdomen. The guard recovered.

Confined at the maximum-security Upstate Correctional Facility, Díaz had been in solitary for two years when he wrote his aunt. Casanova rushed to visit him, only to find them divided by Plexiglass that prevented her from giving him a hug.

Casanova said Díaz has been in and out of the SHU during the past 12 years.

A recent count at Rikers Island, the city's largest jail, found that one in seven inmates in a population of more than 10,000 were being held in isolation.

Perkins traces the large number of inmates held in solitary confinement to the attitude of corrections officers towards inmates.

It's customary for guards to place inmates in solitary confinement for anything from the possession of tobacco to a messy bunk, according to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union. When violence or gang activity are involved, the Department of Correction views solitary confinement as protection, either for the person being sentenced or the rest of the prison population.

"If two inmates get in a fight, they have to be separated, they have to be protected from each other," Martin Horn, the former New York City DOC Commissioner, told Gotham Gazette last year.

The city DOC said it was too soon to comment on the proposed bill and a spokesperson for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said they do not comment on pending legislation.

HALT’s proposed 15-day limit on solitary confinement would be in keeping reform advocated by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture.

"The bill is a fundamental transformation of the way the prison deals with misconduct," said Jennifer Parish, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center and founding member of the Jails Action Coalition. "It's a transformation from a punitive response to one that's more focused on assisting people with underlying needs that cause them to act out."

Such organizations as Human Rights Watch and the NYCLU are working to expose the psychological toll that the lack of human contact and outside stimulation has on inmates, many of whom will be released back into their communities.

The HALT Act would prohibit the use of solitary confinement for protection and would mandate that inmates be placed in traditional solitary cells for only the most egregious infractions, such as violent assault or attempted escape. 

The punishment would be eliminated altogether for inmates who fall into a number of "vulnerable populations," such as those under 21 and over 55 years old, as well as anyone suffering from a disability or mental illness and anyone who identifies as LGBT.

When asked whether the political climate in Albany is conducive to reforming policy on solitary confinement, Perkins responded with a question of his own.

"Have you been outside in the last few days?" he asked, referring to recent sub-freezing temperatures. "It's colder than that."

But Perkins predicts that "warm days are coming." They would come more quickly, he added, if the governor put the "moral and political weight of his office" behind the issue.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposed legislation.

 

Mayor Announces Settlement Agreement on Stop-And-Frisk


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Mayor Bill de Blasio came through on one of his top-priority campaign promises today with an announcement that he has reached a settlement agreement with civil rights lawyers who challenged the police department’s stop-and-frisk policy. 

The police tactic hasn’t been used since August, when a federal judge ruled that the policy was unconstitutional. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed the ruling. 

Reforming the policy that created the tactic will involve a more direct communication between city neighborhoods and the police department, de Blasio said. The mayor has in the past complained that the dialogue has been broken, instigating a rift between police officers and the residents.

A court-appointed monitor will oversee changes in police policy. The monitor will serve for three years and guarantee the NYPD is in complete compliance with the constitution. De Blasio also said he will install an independent NYPD Inspector General. 

“This is a defining moment in our history. It’s a defining moment for millions of our families, especially those with young men of color,” de Blasio said in a statement. “This will be one city, where everyone’s rights are respected, and where police and community stand together to confront violence.”

Critics of the stop-and-frisk policy charged that it targeted Hispanic and African-American men. Bloomberg countered that white people were stopped. De Blasio has stood firm in his belief that the policy was overused and abused.

“We believe in respecting every New Yorkers’ rights, regardless of what neighborhood they live in or the color of their skin,” de Blasio said.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin first ruled the policy unconstitutional and wanted to make immediate changes to the policy because of racial profiling. The ruling resulted in the judge being removed from the case by a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals saying the judge “ran afoul.” 

In reaching a settlement agreement in the case Floyd v. the City of New York, the mayor and Police Commissioner William Bratton pledged to repair a flawed policy.

“We are taking significant corrective action to fix what is broken,” de Blasio said. 

Bratton, who helped initiate the stop-and-frisk policy under his first term as commissioner under former Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, attended the mayor’s news conference and said he is committed to keeping the law honest and fair. 

“We will not break the law to enforce the law,” he said in a statement. “That’s my solemn promise to every New Yorker, regardless of where they were born, where they live, or what they look like. Those values aren’t at odds with keeping New Yorkers safe—they are essential to long-term public safety.”

Mayor De Blasio Promises Independent Police IG


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NEW YORK — Bill de Blasio stood out from the field of mayoral candidates last year for supporting a set of City Council bills to strengthen the local ban on profiling by police officers and to create an inspector general to oversee the New York Police Department’s policies and procedures.

After swearing in his new police commissioner last week, de Blasio recommitted his support for filling the position with an “effective inspector general.”

“I want to emphasize the law is right — this individual will serve independently from the commissioner,” de Blasio said, as he stood with new NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. “At the same time, I expect a good and respectful relationship.”

The selection of New York City’s first inspector general for the police department technically falls upon the next commissioner of the Department of Investigation, which already oversees 14 inspector generals that operate across 30 city agencies. The independence of those inspectors, however, has never been scrutinized and debated the way the NYPD inspector general has.

Richard Aborn, executive director of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, explained that the law as written maintains an objective measure for accountability that is incorporated into the job.

“If you have elements of transparency built in to the office it maintains a sense of independence,” Aborn said, adding that the regular reporting requirements to both the Council and mayor already ensures a new level of auditing to the NYPD.

Even the appointment of a new head of the Department of Investigation requires a check from the City Council. Unlike most agency heads, the new crop of legislators need to sign off on the mayor’s pick for the administration’s lead investigator. Even so, de Blasio’s early support for the new position and the level of scrutiny all but ensures the mayor’s involvement in selecting an inspector general.

“We’re going to find someone who by definition commands public respect, and the respect of the men and women of this department,” de Blasio said.

Asked what role Bratton would play in the process of selecting the person charged with overseeing the police department, de Blasio said his new commissioner’s counsel wouldn’t compromise the inspector general’s mandate.

“I’m certainly going to discuss the situation with Commissioner Bratton before making any choices and seek his input. I want this to be a choice that we all feel good about,” the mayor said.

The position of inspector general for the police department came about after a long political battle in the heat of last year’s mayoral election. The City Council passed the bill creating the office but not without both conflict from within the body and with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Council racked up enough votes for a veto-proof majority, overriding Bloomberg’s eventual strike against the law.

The bill itself was paired with the equally contentious expansion of the city’s profiling ban, the two being packaged as the Community Safety Act. Considered to be the Council’s response to the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, the inspector general bill in particular was also motivated by the police department’s ongoing surveillance of Muslim communities for counterterrorism intelligence.

Members of the American-Arab community argue that the police unfairly and unconstitutionally targets it on the basis of religion, and that there has been no link between the surveillance program and terrorist attempts in recent years. Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who began his most recent tenure as top cop months after the Sept. 11 attacks, defended both the department’s intelligence gathering methods and the NYPD’s relationship with all communities.

Soon after his appointment, Bratton displayed his commitment for an inclusive police department by privately sitting down with leaders of the Muslim community.

Arab American Association Executive Director Linda Sarsour said she left the meeting on Dec. 12 feeling optimistic that Bratton was open to criticism from even the severest opponents to police practices under his predecessor.

“There were some of the most staunch police reform advocates at that meeting,” she recalled. “There were anti-Bratton people there, and the fact that those people were brought to the table was something Commissioner Kelly never did.”

Sarsour said she was cautiously optimistic about the ability of Bratton and de Blasio to follow through on reform priorities. She said her community celebrated the passage of the inspector general bill. But to make it work, Sarsour argued, the new administration needs to be able to use its subpoena power and work with a more transparent police department.  

At his swearing-in on Thursday, Bratton promised as much and pointed to his past experience with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he served as police commissioner from 2002 to 2009. The LAPD has an inspector general whose mission is to provide “strong, independent and effective oversight.” Bratton joked that working with an inspector general again would be a “piece of cake.”

Bratton told reporters that the LAPD increased the inspector general’s powers, and that he himself had invited the inspector general to various crime scenes, staff meetings and disciplinary discussions.

“If you commit to make it work,” Bratton said, “it will work.”

Justice May Be Ahead For Central Park 5, But What About Key Police Reform?


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Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns sparked some chatter among the political class yesterday when he told The Huffington Post that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio would settle the 10-year-old Central Park Five civil lawsuit brought by the suspects — teenagers at the time — who were wrongfully convicted for brutally attacking a jogger in the park sued. But it's not really news that de Blasio would like to settle the case. 

After all, back in January, de Blasio sent out a statement as public advocate calling it a “moral obligation” of the city to “right this injustice.” “It is in our collective interest — the wrongly accused, their families and the taxpayer — to settle this case and not let another year slip by without action,” he said in the statement.

De Blasio’s transition team directed us to the January statement when we asked about the mayor-elect's position on the Central Park Five case.

What may be news, however, is where de Blasio stands on the question of videotaping interrogations by law enforcement — a question that we'd like to answer. Why? Recall that the pivotal evidence in the case against at least one suspect in the Central Park Five case turned out to be a false confession.

As Gotham Gazette City Government Reporter Chester Soria explained in a recent story about false confessions, one of the main focuses of policymakers and advocacy groups working to redress the problem has been on getting police departments across the country to begin videotaping not only confessions but also the interrogations leading up to them.

As Soria writes, for reform advocates, “a written or videotaped confession only tells part of the story. Capturing an interrogation from beginning to end, on the other hand, creates an undeniable record that ensures the veracity of confessions.”

The question of videotaping interrogations was again highlighted in October when it was revealed that the New York Police Department had not recorded detectives grilling the suspect in the Baby Hope case. Back in 2010, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had said he would start a pilot program to test videotaping interrogations; but, as The New York Times reported in its story on the Baby Hope case, only two precincts were videotaping interrogations of felony and sexual assaults as of October.  

It’s unclear where the mayor-elect stands on the issue of videotaped interrogations and whether he will call for the next police commissioner to implement this reform which police reformers say is necessary.

The mayor-elect’s transition team didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday about de Blasio's position on videotapped confessions. Online searches didn’t turn up any statement from him as a candidate or public advocate, either. (Of course, if you find one, please email us and we'll update this story.)

NY State Mulls Bill Requiring Videotaped Interrogations


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[This story is part of a series focusing on false confessions and filming interrogations published by Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Read other stories in the series here.]

NEW YORK —The New York Police Department is willingly unfurling its own interrogation recording program, albeit slowly. And yet for some observers, it isn’t enough.

Across the country, lawmakers are making an effort not only to convince authorities to adopt the best practice but to push legislation that creates accountability and oversight of said programs.

New York state has been waging that fight for years now, leaving some local leaders looking for more immediate recourse on a municipal level.

One of the leaders in Albany pushing for legislative reform on interrogations, Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol, said he was happy to hear of NYPD’s move towards the 21st Century. He said internal best practices aren’t enough.

“That would be wrong and would still require legislation in order to make it work effectively,” said Lentol, a former prosecutor.

Almost every major independent criminal justice group and association in New York state supports the videotaping of interrogations. The District Attorneys Association of New York, led by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, holds that the recording of interrogations is best handled by individual jurisdictions as long as it doesn’t either strain resources or adversely affect the investigation or case.

The group has released its own proposal of best practices for recording, as have the New York State Bar Association and New York State Association of Chiefs of Police.

The practice has even caught the attention of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo. During his 2013 State of the State address, the governor advocated for legislation promoting the videotaping of confessions for suspects in violent crimes and sex offenses.

“This will give us more certainty that the convictions we obtain are actually fair and justified,” Cuomo said.

While a bill has yet to make it to a successful vote, Cuomo recently took steps to ensure that authorities can at least pursue the recording of interrogations while Albany sorts out the legislation.

In July 2013, Cuomo announced that the state would make $1 million available to agencies so that they could record criminal interrogations.

“Wrongful convictions not only harm the innocent, but they allow the actual perpetrators of crime to remain free,” the governor said. “The new equipment that will result from this funding will improve the strength of New York’s criminal justice system, making all New Yorkers safer as a result.”

And yet a bill requiring that all authorities adopt a program with oversight has yet to make it to the floor. It came the closest it has ever come to passing in early 2012, when Cuomo signed off on a legislative package that also expanded the state’s DNA database to include materials collected in misdemeanors cases.

The bills that passed originally included a mandate to videotape interrogations statewide, one of a number of recommendations outlined by the state’s Justice Task Force, headed by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. They were all eliminated before the bill made its way to the governor’s desk.

“In Albany, even if it seems like a no-brainer, it’s never a no-brainer,” Lentol said. “That’s what happens in negotiations.”

As a legislative issue, the recording of interrogations has been debated in the Albany Capitol since 2003 when former Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV of Harlem first proposed a bill.

Lentol has since picked up the reins. Along with state Sen. Bill Perkins, the two have spent the last few legislative sessions working on a bill that would not only require minimum standards for recording interrogations but also create some exceptions to make the transition easier for police agencies.

{pullquote}The more transparent police and prosecutors are about interrogations, the more credibility our system has. — one lawmaker said.{/pullquote}

Lentol added that he didn’t think passage of future bills would be likely without another similar omnibus bill. And while there aren’t plans for such a package, the recording of interrogations seems to have stuck with Cuomo.

“The more transparent police and prosecutors are about interrogations, the more credibility our system has."

Perkins is more hopeful. Before joining the state Senate, Perkins pushed similar legislation on a local level as a City Councilman. Today, he still argues that the two key elements in question are transparency and accountability.

“There’s no place here that they’re more necessary than in the criminal justice system,” Perkins said. “The more transparent police and prosecutors are about interrogations, the more credibility our system has. Anything short of that contributes to that cynicism we saw in the Central Park Five case.”

Until Albany acts, Perkins thinks that there are some means for transparency, even if they’re not perfect. Referring to a recent law passed by the City Council, an inspector general for the New York Police Department might be able to help properly oversee its interrogations program — even if it’s not a perfect solution.

“An independent inspector general is maybe a better step in that regard, but it’s like the fox watching the coop,” Perkins said.  “With all due respect to the good police officers, I would imagine that it’s even more so to their advantage to be able to show how correct they are and to be above any kind of cynicism about the outcome of their interrogations.”

But not everybody agrees that authorities need oversight. One of the inspector general bill’s most ardent detractors was Queens City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who, along with a number of local police unions, argued that the oversight bill was redundant.

“We might as well call our police commissioner ‘deputy monitor’ because they won’t be in charge anymore,” he said during a radio interview earlier this year.

His resistance to police oversight extended to that of the department’s interrogation procedure. Although Vallone supports NYPD’s decision to voluntarily videotape interrogations, he has pushed back on a need for external oversight from the city council or for statewide legislation.

If anything, Vallone said in a phone call, the myriad of regulations would create more "technical violations to get people off."

False Confessions: NYC Still Struggles in Aftermath of Central Park Five


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[This story is part of a series focusing on false confessions and filming interrogations published by Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Read other stories in the series here.]

A 14-year-old Raymond Santana sat slumped in a chair, his arms crossed.

Santana sat across the table from then Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer and the police detective who had interviewed the Harlem teenager twice in the last 27 hours. Another officer handled a video camera.

{sidebar id=26}

The officer switched the camera on. The time stamp read 2:30 a.m., on April 21, 1989. It was the first time a camera would be used to record any of Santana’s interviews with police, and Lederer read Santana his rights, making sure that the detectives had done the same earlier in the night.

"Yes," Santana kept mumbling in response, his voice barely audible over a growing din at the Central Park precinct station.

"Now that I've advised you of your rights," Lederer began to ask, "are you willing to tell me the truth about what happened on the night of April 19, 1989?"

Santana didn’t know it at the time, but the 30 minutes that would follow the detective’s question would seal Santana’s future and ensure his conviction in a case that featured little other evidence against him or the four other Harlem boys charged along with him.

• • •

In the United States, false confessions play a role in about one in four wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence. The confessions often come forth following hours of interrogation, resulting in a statement of guilt put on paper in front of the investigating detectives or, as in Santana's case, on videotape. Although technically a person cannot be convicted on a confession alone, it often plays a crucial role in a trial.

"Confession evidence is heavily relied upon by juries because it’s counterintuitive that one would confess to something that they didn't do," said Stephen Saloom, policy director at the Innocence Project, the New York-based nonprofit legal clinic that has tracked more than 310 DNA exonerations nationwide.

For Saloom and other reform advocates, a written or videotaped confession only tells part of the story. Capturing an interrogation from beginning to end, on the other hand, creates an undeniable record that ensures the veracity of confessions. That, Saloom said, benefits both the defendant and the prosecution.

Seventeen states – along with the District of Columbia – have already adopted some degree of videotaping requirement. Last September, the commissioner of the world's largest police force announced that it would adopt the practice.

Although New York City prosecutors have selectively taped interrogations for decades, the New York Police Department was supposed to be on track to conduct them on a regular basis in every one of its 76 precincts.

In October, The New York Times reported that only two precincts were videotaping interrogations of felony assaults and sexual assaults, the same two precincts that were part of the NYPD’s pilot program announced in 2010.

{pullquote}"It gives the prosecutor a greater sense of security because it shows more accurately than the words the defendant's state of mind."{/pullquote}

Despite its growing popularity, opponents still argue the policy will deter police officers from doing their jobs. But what goes into that job and the means used to get a confession can be just as controversial as the policy itself.

New York City is no stranger to the practice of videotaping suspects. In fact, the Bronx District Attorney's office is the first documented office to videotape confessions on a regular basis. In 1983, The New York Times wrote about how, under Mario Merola's leadership, the Bronx DA's recording policy led the way for neighboring DA's to do the same.

"It gives the prosecutor a greater sense of security because it shows more accurately than the words the defendant's state of mind," former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau told The Times.

Six years later, it was Morgenthau's office that led the investigation into 1989's Central Park jogger case.

• • •

NYPD first picked up Santana at 11 p.m. Complaints were coming into police that as many as 30 black and Latino boys were roaming through Central Park, harassing and assaulting bystanders.

Santana was soon joined at the police precinct on Central Park West and West 86th Street by Antron McCray, 15; Kevin Richardson, 14; Yusef Salaam, 15; and Korey Wise, 16. They didn’t all know each other when they were arrested, but all five were already in custody when police made a gruesome discovery in the park.

Officers found a female jogger on a path alongside a small river in the park's North Woods around 2 a.m. Near death, she was bleeding and unconscious from a brutal assault and rape. Police spent the next crucial hours trying to connect the dots between the boys they had in custody and the jogger.

Headlines across the country didn't wait until the jury's verdict to find the Santana and the four other boys guilty. In this case, the offense was clear and the case was closed: four of the five confessed. The four youngest spent at least five years in juvenile correctional facilities.

Wise, the oldest at 16 years of age, served nearly 12 years in prison as an adult. While there, Wise had a run in with Matías Reyes. Reyes, who was serving time for the 1989 rape and murder of a pregnant woman, was also linked to least seven other rapes in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Reyes apologized to Wise about an earlier fight. They talked for a while. After they spoke, Reyes turned to a correctional employee and said that someone was serving time for a crime that he committed.

Word of Reyes' admission eventually made its way back down to Manhattan, which in 2002 prompted the district attorney’s office to compare Reyes's DNA with samples collected from the Central Park crime scene, samples that never matched any of the boys. The test showed that the DNA was a match for Reyes.

The "new evidence, had it been available to the juries, would have resulted in verdicts more favorable to the defendants, not only on the charges arising from the attack on the female jogger but on the other charges as well,” Morgenthau wrote in a statement that prompted officials in late 2002 to overturn the convictions.

New city leaders had to deal with the aftermath of the exoneration. Less than a year into his first term as mayor, Michael Bloomberg released a statement on the heels of the court's decision.

"I know District Attorney Morgenthau has sought to see justice served, and I have asked Police Commissioner [Ray] Kelly to look at the District Attorney's findings to determine if any changes in police procedures are merited," Bloomberg wrote in January 2003.

• • •

Kelly took no visible steps immediately after Bloomberg released his statement in 2003. In fact, it wasn't until early 2010 — seven years after the Central Park Five’s convictions were overturned — that the NYPD said it would even explore how it might change how officers conduct interrogations.

It took another year for the NYPD to actually launch two pilot programs to videotape interrogations, one in the Bronx's 48th Precinct and another in Brooklyn's 67th Precinct. At that point, the cameras were only used for felony assault cases.

In August 2012, The Wall Street Journal followed up on the pilot program and found that progress was slow. Paul Browne, then the police department's deputy commissioner and spokesman, told The Journal that the NYPD would expand the pilot program to five precincts from the original two. That suddenly changed the following month.

Five weeks after Browne spoke to The Journal, Kelly began an hour-long speech to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs by announcing that all precincts would adopt the videotaping of interrogations. The policy would also expand beyond just felony assaults, which Kelly said totaled around 300 interviews at the time, to include murders and sex crimes.

"We want to continue to stay ahead of the curve with the help of our recording initiative," Kelly told the audience. He was not specific about a timeline for implementation, nor has the NYPD ever made that information public.

During an unrelated press conference, Bloomberg speculated that significant progress could be made before his third and final term ends in late 2013. That gave NYPD one year to secure a $3 million grant from the New York City Police Foundation to purchase the necessary equipment to update antiquated interrogation rooms and re-train police officers.

{pullquote}A spokesman for the Police Department told The New York Times in October that the NYPD was rolling out the program as fast as it could but that only 28 of the city’s 76 precincts are even outfitted for videotaping interrogations.{/pullquote}

Almost 23 years after Raymond Santana and the other boys were taken to the Central Park precinct for questioning, Kelly and Bloomberg stood in front of the building’s glass doors on a sunny but cold late-March morning.

"Crime in Central Park is down by 80 percent compared to 20 years ago," Kelly said during the event. "This facility underscores just how seriously the City of New York and its police department take our mission of keeping this park safe."

A spokesman for the police department told The New York Times in October that the NYPD was rolling out the program as fast as it could but that only 28 of the city’s 76 precincts are even outfitted for videotaping interrogations.

Asked during a brief press conference after the ribbon cutting, Kelly said that NYPD would begin to roll out the recording program in Queens "probably" by the first week of April 2014. The other boroughs would soon follow, he added, as they continue to collect funds from the Police Foundation.

"We are assembling money, you might say," he said. "We're committed to going forward."

Seven months later — and with less than eight weeks left in Bloomberg’s administration —  NYPD is still only conducting interviews in the same two precincts it launched its pilot program in. A spokesman for the police department told The New York Times in October that the NYPD was rolling out the program as fast as it could but that only 28 of the city’s 76 precincts are even outfitted for videotaping interrogations.

• • •

By the time police first questioned him, the 14-year-old Santana hadn't slept for about a day. He was told repeatedly that he could go home as soon as they sorted out his story, and that any charges stemming from the night were likely to go to family court.

Santana said that the detective didn't start taking notes until the interview turned to the rape. The other boy, he was told, said he was the rapist. That's when his and the others’ stories began to change.

"They knew we were going to confess,” Santana said. “It was just a matter of time."

READ THE REST OF THE STORY AT JUVENILE JUSTICE INFORMATION EXCHANGE

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Stop-And-Frisk Ruling, Removes Judge


Updated with statements from the city, Judge Scheindlin and mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota. 

A federal appeals court today froze a lower court’s ruling that the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals also ordered that the judge behind the ruling be removed from her the case, writing that the "appearance of partiality surrounding this litigation was compromised."

READ THE RULING

That judge, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, ruled in August that the NYPD’s use of the controversial policing method was "indirect racial profiling.”

"We could not be more pleased with the Court's findings," said city attorney Michael A. Cardozo in a statement today. "This ruling not only ensures that the remedies ordered by the District Court — which we believe were unjustified and deeply problematic — will be put on hold during our appeal, but it stays the liability decision on the Police Department’s compliance with the Constitution."

Scheindlin also spoke out after her expulsion from the case, justifying her decsion on particulars in the case as well as for talking to the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin in May, which the appeal court innapropriate.

"All of the interviews identified by the Second Circuit were conducted under the express condition that I would not comment on the Floyd case," Scheindlin wrote. "And I did not."

When Scheindlin's original ruling came down, the decision was hailed by police reform advocates as proof that the NYPD had engaged in policing that disproportionately targeted black and Latino men. Democratic mayoral candidates during this summer's primary also took umbrage under the ruling.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg — whose office appealed Scheindlin's ruling — defended the policy. The outgoing mayor accused the candidates of using campaign rhetoric to score political points with voters and risking the city's strides in public safety.

Bloomberg also personally took Scheindlin to task for her decision.

"Think about this judge on stop-and-frisk," he said during a radio appearance in mid-August. "What does she know about policing? Absolutely zero."

The ruling has also been featured heavily during the general election, with Republican candidate Joe Lhota defending the NYPD from Scheindlin's ruling. His Democratic rival, Bill de Blasio, made significant inroads with primary voters, however, by criticizing how stop-and-frisks have been conducted under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

"I'm extremely disappointed in today's decision," de Blasio said in a statement. "We shouldn't have to wait for reforms that both keep our communities safe and obey the Constitution. We have to end the overuse of stop and frisk — and any delay only means a continued and unnecessary rift between our police and the people they protect."

Lhota had a different take.

"Bravo! As I have said all along, Judge Scheindlin's biased conduct corrupted the case and her decision was not based on the facts," Lhota said in a statement. "The ruling by the nation's second highest court was an unprecedented rejection of both the result of the case and the manner with which it was achieved."

The now-stayed order Scheindlin had released also called a pilot program to place body cameras on police officers and installing attorney Peter L. Zimroth as an independent monitor to oversee the department’s use of stop-and-frisk.

The next scheduled court date for the case is March 14, 2014, three months into the next administration.

De Blasio, who has maintained a commanding lead over Lhota in various polls, has already vowed to drop the appeal.

City Council Overrides Bloomberg Vetoes Of NYPD Bills


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NEW YORK — One week after a federal court ruled against the New York Police Department's use of stop-and-frisk, the City Council passed two bills that aim to systemically upend how the much debated tactic is used.

Yesterday's vote in the Council to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto of the bill had some observers on edge.

Originally passed in an overnight meeting in June, the bill to create an inspector general to investigate general practices and policies passed 39 to 10 at yesterday's Council meeting. A second bill to expand the city's law against racial profiling was overridden by the minimum 34 votes needed .

"Today, the City Council listened to the voices of reason and passed legally sound and responsible legislation that respects the Fourth and Fourteenth amendment rights of city residents, while providing the necessary oversight to establish better policing practices," said Brooklyn Councilmen and bill sponsors Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander in a statement after the vote.

Minutes after the vote, Bloomberg vowed to appeal the racial profiling bill, writing in a statement that it would fail to stop profiling but instead is aimed at winning votes.

On the John Gambling radio show this morning, Bloomberg again focused his attention on the profiling bill and the likelihood of it becoming law.

"We believe we have a very good case in court," he said before adding that he'd likely be out of office before a court can reach a decision. "Just looking at the calendar, the next mayor will have to decide whether or not to continue the appeal."

Bloomberg repeated his opposition to the bill. He said that he already signed a profiling bill into law in 2004. Any and all stops, he said, are based on where crime is reported and the description of suspects — not Census data.

Unless a court does intervene on the mayor's appeal, the profiling bill is slated to become law in late November, 90 days since yesterday's vote. Otherwise, the inspector general bill will be law as of Jan. 1, 2014.

The NYPD inspector general would exist under the Department of Investigation. A DOI spokeswoman declined to comment on the bill's passage.

Whoever is appointed to the job at DOI will operate separately from the independent monitor assigned by federal Judge Shira Scheindlin in her ruling against the city two weeks ago.

"Let me be clear the IG is not limited as the court's monitor is to only stop-and-frisk," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, adding that the inspector general would look into any practices that the NYPD engages in, including stop-and-frisk.

Quinn has long supported the inspector general bill, but has been criticized in recent months for her opposition to the racial profiling bill. A Democratic candidate for mayor, Quinn has spent the last few weeks confronting fellow  candidate Public Advocate Bill de Blasio on the issue.

A non-voting sponsor on both bills, de Blasio on Thursdsay accused Quinn of taking advantage of the cameras by supporting one bill and not the other. He argued again that he's the only candidate who can end the "Bloomberg era of stop-and-frisk" by supporting both bills and replacing Commissioner Ray Kelly — whom Quinn said she'd ask to remain at the department's helm.

At an impromptu campaign event before the vote, Quinn accused de Blasio of misleading primary voters by calling himself the only candidate opposed to the policy's status quo or racial profiling — a charge also levied by former comptroller and the only the only black candidate race, Bill Thompson.

Quinn also vowed that under her leadership, Kelly would have to be willing to reform stop-and-frisk to her liking, calling de Blasio a "say anything, do nothing politician talking out of both sides of his mouth."

The profiling bill, Quinn said yesterday standing in front of a group of Council members, opens the door to conflicting court opinions between the local and state courts. Many of the legislators behind her disagreed with Quinn on policy grounds, but praised her willingness to engage despite their differences of opinion.

To some legislators, that difference of opinion meant that the body needed to continue the conversation beyond the vote.

During the vote, Williams said that none of the votes against the bill came from any members of the Council's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. With 27 members, its members make up a little more than half of the entire Council.

However, at least two opposing votes did come from caucus members. Queens Councilman Peter Koo voted against both bills, and Bronx Councilman Joel Rivera voted against the racial profiling bill.

The idea that one had to belong to a minority in order to understand the issue of stop-and-frisk rankled some members outside the caucus.

"I vote on things that I have a role in — things I don't have expertise in — and to say you shouldn't vote with your own judgment because you're not a person of color, I think it's offensive," said Staten Island Councilman Vincent Ignizio.

"It's indisputable that thousands of people are alive because of the efforts of this police department," Ignizio said as he defended his vote against both bills. However, he also vowed to work with his colleagues to work with those in support of the new laws.

Another opponent to the bills, however, was less measured in his message. Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich said that he appreciated and respected those who support the bills but couldn't stand for a bill that costs taxpayers $2 million for redundant bureaucracy instead of paying for more officers on the street.

Briefly shouted at by an audience member in the overlooking public gallery, Ulrich shouted that he would not be intimidated, calling both bills "downright dangerous."

"New Yorkers will rue the day that City Council overturned these vetoes," Ulrich said.

Many of the bill supporters agreed with Ulrich and the other Council members who defended Bloomberg's veto that NYPD needs to increase the number of police officers, but the consensus among them seems to be that the bills would help improve policing.

"I think what we all want is a city where we're safe and our civil rights are protected," Lander said, noting that the debate has been "difficult and polarizing." Like Ignizio, Lander nonetheless thanked the bills' opponents for helping to elevate the dialogue.

While emotions didn't necessarily run as high at yesterday's meeting as they did when the Council originally passed the bills, when members made multiple rounds at the mic to explain their votes, many legislators noted the personal significance of vote.

Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras sat at the front of the Council to explain her vote as important not just to her as a legislator but as a mother-to-be. The councilwoman is more than 8 months pregnant.

Ferreras called upon her experiences as a Latina and her hopes as a mother as reasons for her vote, saying that she knows her son is "coming into a better New York City" for it.

"My son and I vote yes," she said.

A Hunger Strike In Memory Of A Slain Councilman


geoffrey-davis-hunger-strike

NEW YORK — A decade ago this month, City Councilman James E. Davis was shot and killed at City Hall, ending a promising political career.

Now his brother is marking the anniversary of Davis’ death with a hunger strike outside City Hall to call attention to the need to stop gun violence.

James Davis’ brother, Geoffrey, 49, said he started the nonprofit organization “Love Yourself: Stop the Violence” with his brother in August 1991. But, following his brother's death, he said he changed the name to the James E. Davis Foundation.

"Everything is symbolic," Davis said in an interview on Wednesday outside a small, dull green-gray tent where he planned to spend 10 days, living off of energy drinks, water and cranberry juice stored away in a cooler. "I said I'm going to do 10 days to represent the 10 years with a 10-point plan and 10-day prayer vigil."

Pictures of the slain councilman, one surrounded by a flower wreath, and signs with messages against gun violence are displayed around the tent where Davis is staying near the entrance to City Hall.

Davis started his hunger strike on Sunday and will end it on July 17. A vigil scheduled for the anniversary of his brother’s killing on July 23.

It was on that day of 2003 that James Davis was gunned down by a political rival, Othniel Askew, on the balcony of the Council chambers, a murder that shocked the city and lead to increased security at City Hall. Askew was able to get the handgun into the building because he was with Davis, and was able to avoid going through the metal detectors. A police officer was also in the chambers and shot and killed Askew after the incident.

Before his death, James Davis, the City Council member for Brooklyn’s 35th district, was seen as a talented politician on the rise. In 1983, he was falsely accused of grand theft auto and beaten by police. Some years later, he became a corrections officer at Rikers Island.

“I have tried to turn that experience into something positive,” Davis said in an article he wrote for Gotham Gazette a year before his untimely death. “Now as a City Council member, I bring all my experiences together to help reduce crime and improve policing in the 35th district in Brooklyn and around the city.”

Geoffrey Davis, who unsuccessfully ran for his brother’s seat after his death, praised Mayor Michael Bloomberg for forming a national organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which promotes gun control. But he also said the Council could do more, and that "New Yorkers are outraged by the gun violence."

He said he was particularly outraged because “City Hall is not putting the money in like they are supposed to,” — and argued that the Council was neglecting youth by cutting fundamental programs that are built to keep children busy.

“From after school programs to libraries, to putting conflict resolution in schools so children can learn how to resolve their problems and differences,” he said. “All those programs can save lives, and we are here to send a message to City Hall that we are just upset and tired and fed up with it.”

He said he felt a strong bond with the children who were victims of gun violence, referring to recent a case where a 14-year old girl named D’aja Robinson was shot and killed on a city bus.

“They are all our children,” he said. “When the young girl was shot in Queens, that 14-year-old child, my daughter was killed.”

This, he said, is how he gets his therapy. It helps him feel more connected to his slain brother.

“I developed my own tool of therapy,” he said. “We are going to keep going forth with the peace movement, and that connects me spiritually with my brother because we were doing it together.”

The City Council did not respond to requests for a comment. However, the Council has not been absent on the issue: It has funded an anti-gun violence initiative for the past two years based on the nationally recognized CeaseFire model. This year, the Council increased the program’s $4.8 million budget by $7,000, and added a gun buyback program and a community development program for the city’s Department of Probation.

Davis said he is just continuing the work he and his brother started in the early 1990s, and he knows his big brother would be proud of him.

"Every time I look at his picture I know he is saying, 'go Jep, go Jep,' " Davis said with a smile as he remembered his brother and his old nickname. "He said, 'Hold me down. If anything should happen to me hold me down.' I am holding him down now."

Tony Award-winning R&B singer Melba Moore is expected to stop by Davis’ tent at 1 p.m. on Monday.

And on Wednesday, July 17, the last day of his protest, the Rev. Johnny Youngblood, the pastor of Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, is scheduled to stop by for prayer and spiritual singing with some church members.

Can Empty Prisons Be Repurposed To Help Ex-Cons Reintegrate Into Society?


Fulton Correctional Facility in the Bronx

ALBANY, N.Y. — As the state's prison population shrinks and former prisons in the city go empty, some advocates for ex-convicts say they have a vision for what do with unused correctional buildings: repurpose them for re-entry programs.

One group is pushing to transform the Bayview Correctional Facility in Manhattan into a center for job training, educational opportunities and housing for former prisoners. The all-women facility was evacuated during Hurricane Sandy and its inmates shipped upstate.

And, in the Bronx, another group plans to transform the former Fulton Correctional Facility, an imposing, seven-story structure, into what could be the city's largest re-entry center, complete with entrepreneurship opportunities and temporary housing.

Ann Jacobs, the director of the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said she knows of no other example in the country of a former prison being reused for re-entry services. "I think this is a bold, inspiring idea that will catch on," she said.

There is a certain logic to these plans. About 60 percent of the state's prison population is from the city's five boroughs, and advocates have long argued that it makes no sense to ship them far upstate where it is almost impossible for them to keep connections with their families and reintegrate into their communities once they get out.

Although advocates were displeased that the Cuomo administration chose to shut correctional facilities in the city — Fulton and Arthur Kills Correctional Facility in 2011, and Bayview this year — they see repurposing the prisons for re-entry programs as a way to provide inmates with services they need while keeping them close to home.

The Osbourne Association, a group long involved with helping ex-convicts to readjust to life after prison, is backing the plan to transform the Fulton prison.

“It was clear to me it was doomed. I said if I was going to close a prison, Fulton just makes sense,” said Osbourne Association Executive Director Liz Gaynes, noting that Fulton was a minimum security prison and that the state had an abundance of those upstate.

Greenhope Services for Women, Inc., an organization that works with prisoners at Bayview, hopes to reuse that prison mainly for housing for former female prisoners.

Anne Elliot, of Greenhope, said the stability of long-term housing could allow former female prisoners to get an education, perhaps even a college degree. "That will really extend the opportunities available to them,” Elliot said.

It is extremely difficult for former prisoners to find housing, and ex-felons are not eligible to live in public housing.

Elliot said she hopes that the Cuomo administration will consider the money the state will save by preventing recidivism by giving former female prisoners a place to live when they look at her proposal to transform Bayview. The property is estimated to be worth around $40 million. She said they have yet to approach the Cuomo administration about their plan to repurpose the prison.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

"An incarceration program is not an employment program,” Cuomo said in his 2011 State of the State Address. "If people need jobs, let's get people jobs. Don't put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don't put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs. That's not what this state is all about. And that has to end this session."

The comment was seen by many as a statement of purpose that Cuomo was going to shut down upstate prisons that can be the lifeblood of small towns. But when the administration announced seven prisons it intended to close in July of 2011, many observers were struck that of the 3,800 beds that would go empty, half of them were in New York City. And more city facilities have been scheduled for closure since then.

Elliot says the closing of Bayview put her organization “between a rock and a hard place,” because it was a women’s work release correctional facility located in Manhattan with direct access to the boroughs where most of New York’s inmate population comes from. Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan has Bayview in his district and says the loss of the facility will hurt the rehabilitation process of female prisoners who were being kept close to home. Hoylman said he wants to see a "community based process" to decide what should be done with Bayview.

Groups that help ex-convicts readjust to life say maintaining close family connections is a prime factory in reentry and avoiding recidivism.

“People come out of prison with a strong desire to live a different life but they encounter a lot of barriers,” Jacobs said. “They usually don’t have a strong education, they are poor, housing is hard to find, they don’t have much of a job history. Having a criminal conviction can create even more barriers. They come out thinking, 'I have a scarlett letter.'”

A 2011 report by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that if New York reduced it’s recidivism rates by just 10 percent it would save $42 million a year. The current recidivism rate is slightly under the national average at about 40 percent.

The Bronx could use particular attention because it has higher rates of people incarcerated and on probation than most of the state: There are 4,700 Bronxites on parole and 10,000 on probation supervision, according to 2011 data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The Osbourne Association envisions Fulton as a stopover for ex-inmates who need help returning to the daily routine. They will be provided with a place to sleep, counseling, medical treatment and dental visits all in one place. And Gaynes wants to make sure the community is benefiting as well: Local entrepreneurs will be able to take part in a business incubator program at Fulton as long as they promise to hire former inmates once they are up and running.

TRANSFORMING FULTON

Before being operated as a prison for 36 years, the building that housed Fulton Correctional at 1511 Fulton Ave., served as an Episcopal Church in 1906, a Jewish Center and Synagogue in 1924 and a nursing home and drug treatment center in the 1950s.

The Osbourne Association, which was founded in 1933 and provides services to over 8,000 people each year, had run programs with inmates at Fulton while it was a correctional facility. Nevertheless, the organization realizes that transforming Fulton would be a massive undertaking that will take years to execute.

Of the two efforts, the plan to transform Fulton is the furthest along, with Gaynes having reached out to local elected officials to get their support, including Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who inherited the prison as part of the state’s redistricting process.

Gaynes’ plan made sense to Rivera.  “She had a vision of repurposing Fulton for reentry programs, housing, job training, just this organic one-stop shop,” Rivera said. “So many inmates come back to the Bronx and without programs like the ones Osbourne offer they wouldn’t have the skills they need to get back into society.”

Rivera said he contacted the Cuomo administration and discussions began on how to make Gaynes’ vision a reality.

One of the project’s biggest boosters is Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“I was excited when I heard about the proposal,” Diaz said. “I thought this is the perfect opportunity.”

Diaz said he knew that the state could have tried to sell the property to a housing developer rather than gift it to Osbourne.

“I didn’t want the state to auction it off or sell it to some developer," Diaz said. "We are turning this building into a symbol of renewal and perseverance just like the Bronx."

Gaynes said she argued the state would save more money by preventing recidivism over the long term rather than through a one-time infusion from selling the property. The organization says it is committed to spending $6 million on refurbishing Fulton, but that the overall cost is unclear.

Some of that money could come from the state. Cuomo set up a $50 million fund for areas where prisons were closed. Osbourne could tap into $6 million of that cash for capital projects. However, the organization will need to fundraise, secure grants and work with the community to develop programming that will be beneficial to the returning inmates and the local economy.

“The reconstruction could take a couple of years,” Gaynes said. “During that time we will work with the community. We’ve begun conversations with community groups, we want to get elected officials involved, businesses and we are hoping we can find an intersection among those groups.”

Gaynes said her hope is that, unlike in other areas where a reentry program would be scorned, the community around Fulton will not be put off because the program is replacing a correctional facility. But with the project just announced it is still unclear if there will be organized resistance to what Osbourne has planned.

“I think there will be an energetic process,” Jacobs said. “I know Osbourne is committed to working with the community and hosting programs. I think those types of things are always challenging to pull off.”

She said money may be the greatest challenge. “For all the talk about reentry over the past 12 years or so, there has not been much money that goes into it,” she said.

What Would A Police Inspector General Mean For The City?


nypd-badge

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department, which has over 34,000 officers and vast intelligence operations working to keep the biggest city in the country safe, has a number of checks in place to deter misconduct and corruption.   

They include the Internal Affairs Bureau, five district attorneys, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption, which the police and mayor's office say are enough to monitor the nation's largest police force.

Civil rights organizations and some elected officials disagree. They say those entities provide insufficient oversight and are calling for the establishment of an independent inspector general to review the NYPD's policies and procedures, often pointing to the CIA, FBI and 30 city agencies' own independent monitors.

The mayor's office, however, says what those agencies' monitors and what the proposed inspector general bill asks for can't be compared.

“We have more oversight than any department in America,” said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly at the reopening of the Central Park precinct station house yesterday. “I think it’s more than sufficient.”

Last week, election-year politics converged with the start of a federal trial to determine whether the NYPD’s policy of stopping, questioning and frisking people on the street illegally targets blacks and Hispanics. One of the outcomes was a serious debate over the idea of an inspector general to independently monitor the NYPD. 

The proposal was introduced as a measure to the City Council over a year ago but seemed to be moribund until Democratic mayoral candidate and frontrunner Christine Quinn said last week that an agreement over the bill had been reached among lawmakers. As the powerful speaker of the Council, she has the authority to bring it to a vote.

Bloomberg now finds himself battling against the public discourse surrounding the issue, calling into question whether mayoral candidates who support the proposal want to reduce crime.

“What we don’t know is what they’ll actually do to reduce crime,” he said at the reopening of the Central Park precinct station house. “We don’t even know if it’s a goal, and I believe that the people of this city have a right to know that their mayor will keep fighting to reduce crime.”

Supporters of the plan for an inspector general now have to convince New Yorkers that an unelected inspector charged with overseeing NYPD policy will rein in what critics say is a too-aggressive police force while also helping to keep crime down to historic lows.

What are the origins of the legislation? What would it mean for New Yorkers? Here’s a brief look at the main points.

Origins Of The Bill

The NYPD’s aggressive police practices — including stop-and-frisk and the widespread monitoring of Muslims, including at mosques and cafes — have come under blistering attack by advocates in communities of color. Civil rights organizations have also called into question the tactics.

A coalition of civil rights, legal and minority organizations formed a group, Communities United for Police Reform, in 2012 to demand a review of the NYPD’s approach to public safety in minority communities. They worked with City Council members Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, both of Brooklyn, to bring about the Community Safety Act.

The legislative package calls for four key reforms: ending what its backers refer to as discriminatory profiling by the NYPD; curtailing unlawful searches; requiring officers to identify themselves and explain their actions; and creating the office of the NYPD inspector general.

That bill would establish an independent oversight of the police department’s policies, practices, and programs by an individual who has either not served in the department within the last ten years or at all. The NYPD inspector general would be appointed by the mayor and serve for a seven-year term, renewable only once.

Supporters of the bill say an inspector general for the NYPD would operate much like the 14 inspector generals that operate across 30 city agencies through the Department of Investigation. The proposed police inspector general would also operate within the DOI and report to the mayor.

But the inspector general being proposed by supporters of the bill would be radically different from the other IGs under the DOI, according to DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn. 

She said in a letter to Quinn that she could not support the plan for an NYPD inspector general, saying the bill “transforms DOI wholly and completely." 

The bill calls for the NYPD IG to "conduct independent reviews of the department's policies, practices, programs and operations." Hearn called that "highly irregular." 

Notably, the police Internal Affairs Bureau is listed as an "internal inspector general" for the NYPD, according to the DOI website. Other inspector generals under the DOI focus on municipal corruption. 

The NYPD inspector general would be responsible for submitting public reports on police department reviews; offering recommendations every six months; and accepting requests from the public for reviews. The inspector general would also have subpeona power to fulfill his or her duties. 

What It Could Mean For New Yorkers

Supporters of the inspector general bill say that it would increase transparency and oversight of policing and improve public confidence in the NYPD.The Brennan Center for Justice also has said that an inspector general could be a bulwark against violations of civil liberties. 

“As the NYPD continues its important work of keeping New Yorkers safe, the inspector general would have the mandate, expertise and perspective to make sure that it does so consistent with our constitutionally guaranteed liberties,” wrote Faiza Patel and Andrew Sullivan for the Brennan Center.

If passed, the bill would also allow New Yorkers to submit both written and online requests for reviews on particular NYPD policies or practices across the five boroughs. And while the inspector general can review those policies and practices, the person appointed to the seat would not have any power to directly change them.

“The bill will give DOI no ability to make, change, or implement policy or procedure,” Quinn affirmed on Friday.

Councilman Jumaane Williams — one of the bill’s lead sponsor -— said that the inspector general bill and the rest of the Community Safety Act are not meant to hurt the Police Department but rather to help it work with the people to keep them safe.

“Think about how much resources have been put in to bring one case or to cases to court,” Williams said to a crowd at Foley Square last week, blocks away from the courthouse where a judge began hearing arguments in a class action suit against the stop-and-frisk. “The average person does not have the ability to do that when they're wrong, which is the primary reason that there’s a need for proactive oversight in the NYPD."

Oumou Bah, whose mentally unstable brother was shot and killed in his Morningside Heights apartment after he lunged at police officers at knifepoint in September, said that the city needs an inspector general.

"There is no one body that can investigate itself,” Bah said in December. “It is only fair that we have an inspector general having to deal with everything that comes with such incidents. I have realized that the conflict of interest of what’s going on right now is unbelievable.”

Concerns About Higher Crime, Redundant Oversight

Opponents of the inspector general argue that there are already a number of checks on the NYPD and its activities: the Internal Affairs Bureau; five district attorneys, two U.S. attorneys; the Civilian Complaint Review Board; and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption. All of them review complaints of police officers’ actions.

Bloomberg has said the creation of an inspector general’s office would not only replicate responsibilities given to existing oversight entities, but also create a second commissioner by default. Bloomberg, who previously called the introduction of the bill as election year politics, accused mayoral candidates of “denuding” the mayorship of its powers and discretion.

The head of New York’s detectives union agreed with Bloomberg. Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association, was quoted by the Daily News as calling the bill a power play by Quinn’s Council.

“I think it’s essentially a power grab by a segment of the City Council who are looking to have the authority to appoint their own police commissioner,” he said. “Quinn is willing to hand over that authority to them in exchange for support in the election.”

Quinn doubled down against the mayor’s claims that the appointment of an inspector general would needlessly endanger New Yorkers.

“It is simply completely wrong to suggest that the inspector general legislation will do anything to compromise public safety or create confusion about who is in charge of the NYPD,” she said, calling the charge “empty rhetoric.”

Quinn came out strongly in support of the bill the day after the stop-and-frisk trial began the week of March 18. While Quinn has said that she doesn’t want to see stop-and-frisk be abandoned altogether, she thinks the program has been overused and has created a rift between the police and community members.

The speaker has argued that an inspector general is a first step to healing that rift, and that it would improve the NYPD by independently looking at its operations in a way existing bodies currently do not.

“Those are entities that look at the actions of individual police officers," Quinn said during a press event last week. "But we don't, in fact, have a monitoring mechanism to look at broader policies and practices within the department."

In October, the New York Times reported that 30 out of the city council’s 51 members signed on to the bill though. The number is up to 34 sponsors as of late March. There is also bipartisan support: Queens Councilman Dan Halloran stood apart from the Council’s four Republican members to sponsor the bill.

“He’s been a prosecutor and a defense attorney,” said Halloran spokesman Kevin Ryan said to City & State in October, “and his angle is to give police officers that are on the witness stand as much objective credibility as possible to make it easier for them to be successful.”

Despite the growing support among legislators for the bill, Bloomberg has already promised to veto it once it makes it to his desk, which supporters argue can be as early as next month.

But Quinn made her own promise last week.

"I can guarantee we will override it," she said.

2013 and Beyond

The current Council may pass and override a mayoral veto with relative ease, but the bill’s footprint will be equally felt come January 2014.

In addition to 20 open City Council seats, a new mayor would have to appoint what would likely be NYPD’s first independent inspector general.

However, not all the candidates want that responsibility.

Republican candidates Joe Lhota and John Catsimatidis have both come out against the bill, while George McDonald said he wants to read more about the proposal. Independent candidate and former Democrat Adolfo Carrión, Jr. also opposes creating an inspector general office for NYPD.

The Democratic candidates are just as split. Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former Comptroller Bill Thompson have all come out in support of the legislation. Former Brooklyn Councilman Sal Albanese, however, called the inspector general bill a “shell game” that “punts the ball to an unelected official.”

Up until Monday, Albanese was the only Democratic candidate openly opposed to the bill. After less than a week of support for creating a new inspector general office for NYPD, Comptroller John Liu called the bill “a distraction.”

Liu told the Wall Street Journal that the real issue is stop-and-frisk, which he would abolish if elected.

“The more I think about it, the less sense it makes,” Liu said to the Journal. “I don’t support it.”

Kamelia Kilawan and Cristian Salazar contributed to this report. 

This is an updated version of the story that makes important clarifications about the differences between what supporters of the NYPD inspector general bill say about it and how the mayor's office views it. It also adds an extended discussion of the difference between the proposed inspector general and other inspector generals under the Department of Investigation. 



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