Published February 10, 2012
ALBANY, N.Y. – Three Democratic New York state senators want an independent inspector to oversee the New York Police Department after what they called several abuses, including reports of widespread surveillance of Muslims and the crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protesters.
The bill follows stories by The Associated Press that detailed monitoring of Muslims, a tactic decried by some as religious profiling. The bill targets "stop-and-frisk, the treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and the wholesale surveillance of the Muslim community in New York City and other jurisdictions."
The measure from Sens. Kevin Parker, Eric Adams and Bill Perkins of New York City who are frequent critics of police dealings with minorities has little chance of passage, however. There is no Assembly counterpart, although on Friday Assemblyman Karim Camara said he will introduce one soon. The Senate bill lacks essential support by the Republican majority, which is close to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It also needs a request from city officials.
Bloomberg opposes the bill and said the city won't turn over the police department to an outside group. He and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have defended the department's tactics and say police follow only legitimate leads and don't monitor ethnic neighborhoods. A May 2006 police report addressed to Kelly, however, recommended increased spying at mosques and an assessment of the region's Palestinian community to look for potential terrorists.
"The department already has an aggressive and independent Internal Affairs Bureau, a unit that has been greatly strengthened and enhanced under Commissioner Kelly," said Bloomberg spokesman Marc LaVorgna. "We also have five independently elected district attorneys, two United States attorneys, the Civilian Complaint Review Board and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption all with eyes on the department."
The senators said an independent inspector is needed to restore public confidence in police.
"No one is above the law, not even law enforcement," Parker said. "This legislation seeks to restore the public trust and honor the heroism and service of thousands of officers."
In a series of investigative reports since August, the AP has revealed that, with the CIA's help, the NYPD developed spying programs that monitored every aspect of Muslim life and built databases on where innocent Muslims eat, shop, work and pray. Plainclothes officers monitored conversations in Muslim neighborhoods and wrote daily reports about what they heard.
The NYPD's operating rules prohibit it from basing investigations on religion. The NYPD also says it follows FBI guidelines, which would prohibit many of the steps recommended in the report.
But the NYPD faces little in the way of oversight when it comes to its intelligence programs. Both the City Council and Congress are kept in the dark about this secretive aspect of the department. Many first learned about the surveillance programs from news reports.
A Quinnipiac University poll out Thursday found 60 percent of New York City voters believe police are "appropriately" dealing with Muslims, while 24 percent say police have unfairly targeted Muslims. Overall, 77 percent of New York City voters say police effectively combat terrorism.
The poll questioned 1,222 voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.