NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday blasted a plan to create an inspector general for the New York Police Department, vowing if needed to veto a proposal that he said would undermine the city’s crime-fighting success.
A day after City Council Speaker Christine Quinn signaled that the measure would likely pass the council, Bloomberg urged lawmakers to oppose it, saying it would usher in an era of second-guessing for a police force that has worked to drive crime to record lows.
“Make no mistake about it: This bill jeopardizes that progress and will put the lives of New Yorkers and our police officers at risk,” he said.
Quinn has said she expects to have enough votes to override a veto of the proposal, propelled by criticism of the police department’s extensive use of the tactic known as stop and frisk and its widespread spying on Muslims, as revealed in a series of stories by The Associated Press. Quinn and colleagues backing the inspector general proposal reached an agreement on it Tuesday, positioning it to move toward a vote after months in limbo. Quinn said talks also were progressing on three companion proposals to set new rules surrounding stop and frisk, including expanding protections against racial profiling.
Inspectors general — officials with investigative powers — are a common feature of government agencies, including in law enforcement and intelligence. The FBI and the CIA have such inspectors, as do police forces including the Los Angeles Police Department.
Civil rights advocates say it’s time for the same in the NYPD. The monitor would be able to issue subpoenas and look broadly at police procedures and policies. The position would be housed within the city’s existing Department of Investigation, which acts as an inspector general for many other arms of the city government.
Bloomberg said the NYPD already gets robust oversight from its 700-person Internal Affairs Bureau, a civilian complaint board, a police corruption commission, prosecutors and judges. The council proposal, he said, amounted to “a policy supervisor, and I don’t think any rational person would say we need two competing police commissioners. There would be questions in the ranks of police officers about who’s really in charge and whose policies they should follow.”
“Together, the mayor and the commissioner set the direction of the department, and they do not need an unelected and unaccountable official to supervise their policy decisions,” Bloomberg added during his remarks at the opening of a computer data center in a downtown high-rise — an example, he said, of economic activity flourishing in a city seen as safe.
Quinn was expected to hold a news conference later Wednesday. She said at a mayoral candidate forum Tuesday night that existing oversight wasn’t enough: “You can have a lot of entities, but if they’re not getting the job done, then more is needed.”
The developments come amid a federal trial over the department’s use of stop and frisk, and they follow AP stories that revealed how city police systematically listened in on sermons, hung out at cafes and other public places, infiltrated colleges and photographed people as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks.
The NYPD has said its surveillance of Muslims is legal and that stop and frisk — a technique of stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people who are seen as acting suspiciously but who don’t necessarily meet the probable-cause standard for arrest — has helped drive crime down to record lows and save lives by taking weapons off the street.
Police have made about 5 million stops during the past decade, mostly of black and Hispanic men; critics say the practice unfairly targets minorities. The Supreme Court has said such stops are legal; the current trial concerns whether the NYPD’s use of the tactic needs to change.
Civil rights and police reform advocates said they were pleased with the pact but were continuing to press for the other measures. Police unions condemned the inspector general idea as squandering resources on red tape, and the police department said it gets plenty of oversight.
Proposed last year, the inspector general and stop-and-frisk measures have gotten entrained in the politics of a competitive mayoral campaign. Quinn, a leading Democratic candidate, has faced pressure from civil rights and minority advocates and from some of her rivals to get the measures passed.
The other three measures would require officers to explain why they are stopping people, to tell people when they have a right to refuse a search and to hand out business cards identifying themselves. The measures also would give people more latitude to sue over stops they considered biased.
Councilmen Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, who sponsored all the proposals, said they appreciated the “productive negotiations,” but lawmakers needed to go further than the inspector general proposal.
“Any legislative response by the City Council should, at a minimum, prohibit discriminatory policing, based on racial or other profiling,” they said in a statement Tuesday. “New York will only be truly safe when communities trust the police.”