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Independent NYPD Watchdog Gets Boost With Quinn's Support

By Jill Colvin | March 19, 2013 8:11pm | Updated on March 19, 2013 8:35pm
 Council members are calling for an NYPD inspector general and new oversight of stop-and-frisk.
Council members are calling for an NYPD inspector general and new oversight of stop-and-frisk.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

CITY HALL — Legislation installing an independent NYPD watchdog got a major boost on Tuesday when City Council Speaker Christine Quinn threw her support behind the measure.

“We have reached broad agreement on the inspector general legislation which will enhance the effectiveness of the Department, and at the same [time] will increase the public’s confidence in the police force, building stronger police-community relations," Quinn said in a statement.

A majority of the City Council supports the bill, and supporters say there are enough votes to override a veto by the mayor. Quinn's approval, which will allow the legislation to come to a vote, comes as a federal trial is beginning on a class-action lawsuit challenging the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy

The NYPD inspector general proposal is part of a group of policing reforms called the Community Safety Act, which includes measures requiring officers to identify themselves and laws designed to curb racial profiling and unlawful searches.

Quinn had not previously supported the act but announced Tuesday that she had reached an agreement with the act's sponsors that will allow it to come to a vote.

Quinn's office would not provide any additional details about the specifics of the deal or what powers the new inspector general's office might hold. The current version of the bill would give the inspector's office subpoena powers, but it was unclear Tuesday if Quinn supports that.

Quinn's political opponents expressed skepticism of her support, raising concerns that she could be trying to water down the bill.

"We have seen this movie before — assurances that reform is on the way, only to see the council substitute a half-measure for the true change," Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

Calls for the Community Safety Act to be passed came after mounting concerns over the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk as well as its surveillance of Muslim communities as part of the city's counter-terrorism efforts.

As DNAinfo.com New York reported, the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk has skyrocketed 600 percent since the mayor took office, while shootings roughly held steady, according to records. The stops overwhelmingly target minorities, DNAinfo has reported.

"While this is a strong and important step forward," Quinn said of the deal on the inspector general, "we are also moving forward in a constructive fashion with the Community Safety Act, including a measure to stop racial profiling."

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have argued the new inspector general office is unnecessary, since the NYPD is already subject to oversight by numerous agencies, including the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board.

"No police department in America has more oversight than the NYPD," said spokesman Paul J. Browne.

But City Councilman Jumaane Williams, one of the bill's sponsors, praised Quinn's support, which he said couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

"As the Floyd et. al. v. City of New York trial begins this week — showing that the NYPD's stop, question and frisk policy violates the fundamental civil rights of New Yorkers — it could not be clearer that New York City needs to end discriminatory policing by passing the Community Safety Act," Williams said in a statement.

He said he hoped that any deal would — at a minimum —prohibit racial profiling.

"Good progress has been made on the NYPD inspector general bill, and we are confident that a broad package of meaningful reforms that protect New Yorkers from discriminatory policing will ultimately be passed by this City Council," he said.

The deal on the inspector general was partly sparked by the current federal stop-and-frisk lawsuit. The class action suit against the city aims to stop the disproportionate amount of minorities questioned by police.

On Tuesday, Nicholas Peart, 24, one of the plaintiffs, told the court that he had been stopped by cops four different times between August 2006 and May 2011.

He said that he felt violated when a female officer patted him down outside his grandmother’s house in Brooklyn.

But on cross-examination, Peart, who lives in Harlem, had trouble giving consistent answers about dates, times and exact details.

He also admitted to lying on a police report about getting a cut lip from a police stop at 96th and Broadway on August 2006.

“I was 18 at the time,” he said on the witness stand. “I wanted to do whatever I could to have them take my complaint more seriously.”

A report in The Nation claims to show further abuse of power by the department. The magazine reportedly obtained a tape of a police union representative pressuring officers to comply with department quotas on stops and arrests.

On the undercover recording, the delegate is heard directing officers to issue 20 summons and make one arrest per month, according to the report.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association countered that they have a proven track record of fighting quotas.

“The PBA has been consistently and firmly opposed to quotas for police activities including arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisks,” said union spokesman Albert O’Leary.

“This union has sought and obtained changes to state law making quotas for all police activities illegal.  We have sued and forced an individual commanding officer to stop the use of illegal quotas and will continue to be vigilant and vocal in our opposition to police activity quotas.”

The tape is expected to be presented in the civil trial later this week.

With reporting by Joe Parziale