Guest Op-Ed: For real change, NYPD inspector general with ‘real teeth’ needed

April 25, 2013 Editorial Staff
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In March, a federal trial got underway to investigate the NYPD’s use of its stop and frisk tactic, and the trial’s outcome could very well lead to federal monitors to step in and call the shots at.

The reason? The week the trial began also marked the five-millionth stop and frisk since Mayor Bloomberg took office. The overuse and misuses of stop and frisk has torn at the fabric of police-community relations, threatening long-term public safety.

We got to this point because we don’t have real oversight of the police department in New York City. Let me be clear: setting public safety regulations is something the mayor and the NYPD should do on their own—with proper oversight.

Past efforts to establish oversight at the NYPD lacked the necessary means and authority. The Civilian Complaint Review Board has struggled ever since its inception, only to face constant budget cuts and limited authority.

What we need is a strong oversight entity. This cannot just be a watchdog for complaints.

One way to make this happen — something I’ve advocated for a long time — is to create an inspector general at the NYPD. But this can’t be a cursory or nominal role. We need an inspector general with real teeth.

The City Council has announced it was preparing to pass legislation establishing an I.G. at the NYPD, but the details could make the difference between an effective oversight body and a purely symbolic one.

We can’t substitute half-measures for real change any longer. This time must be different. In a recent letter to Council Speaker Quinn and Police Commissioner Kelly, I reiterated my support for this watchdog but also outlined key provisions necessary for it to succeed.

I propose we draw a line in the sand on:

  • Budget Protection and Independence: The I.G. must have a budget protected from political retaliation, and sufficient to accomplish its mission.
  • Real Oversight and Investigatory Powers: The I.G. must be able to subpoena whatever people or documents it deems necessary in its investigations.

If we’re going to avert a six-millionth stop and frisk in the immediate future, we can’t allow this critical position to be defanged during the legislative process.

An inspector general is fundamental to enacting much-needed reforms – but it can only do so with true oversight powers and an independent budget. Anything less is lip service – not meaningful change.

Bill de Blasio is New York City Public Advocate.

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