“There is no need for an Inspector General in New York because crime is at an all-time low and the department is working well under its current leadership.”  – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg referring to Introduction 881 — a New York City Council bill that would create a NYPD Inspector General office with the responsibility of providing independent oversight of the NYPD as well as assessing the impact of its practices on the rights of New Yorkers.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York is firmly opposed to a bill pending in the City Council that would make the nation’s largest police department subject to oversight by an inspector general with broad powers to review departmental policies.  Inspectors general are a common feature in other city divisions, in federal agencies like the F.B.I. and C.I.A., and in police departments in Los Angeles and elsewhere. But the mayor says there is no need for such an office in New York because crime is at an all-time low and the department is working well under its current leadership.

As documented by the Mollen Commission Report in 1994, the department’s leadership and Internal Affairs Bureau were found to be looking the other way while the police trafficked weapons and sold protection to drug dealers. The commission’s central recommendation — that the city create a strong independent body to monitor the police — remains as relevant today as it was during that scandal nearly 20 years ago.

The Mollen investigation was mainly concerned with criminal acts by rogue cops. In recent years, however, the department’s broader policies have come under fire, underscoring the need for stronger oversight. Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the department, with 34,500 officers, has become one of the largest intelligence-gathering operations in the world, with powers that extend into neighboring states and virtually no outside check on this aspect of its work.

The two external police oversight offices are not equipped to deal with policy issues. The Civilian Complaint Review Board, established in 1993, deals mainly with individual cases of officer misconduct. The Commission to Combat Police Corruption, created by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the wake of the Mollen revelations, lacks subpoena power. In 2005, when the commission tried to determine whether officials were deliberately downgrading crime to make the publicly reported numbers look good, the department simply stonewalled the inquiry.

Creating an inspector general’s office could help address these shortcomings. Under a bill that 30 of the City Council’s 51 members have signed, the Council would forward a list of candidates to the mayor, who would then have the authority to name an inspector general.

The inspector would serve a seven-year term. He or she would review and report to the public on policies and practices and make periodic recommendations on how to improve them. Because the inspector would have subpoena power, the police department could no longer just say no when asked to produce information.
An inspector general is not a foolproof answer. But the mechanism has worked well elsewhere and could only strengthen oversight in a police department that clearly needs it.

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