As part of its effort to keep New York safe from terrorism, the NYPD has vastly expanded its intelligence operations and has been given increased authority in this realm. 1000 police officers and at least $100 million are allocated to this endeavor. The Brennan Center’s Proposal for an NYPD Inspector General shows that oversight mechanisms have not kept pace with the police’s new and expanded roles and recommends that an independent inspector general be established for the NYPD.
Federal intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, have operated for decades with inspectors general. Indeed, as federal agencies have become increasingly involved in domestic intelligence operations, Congress has repeatedly improved oversight. Major police departments too, have found inspectors general to be valuable. The LAPD, for example, operates with an independent inspector general and has seen major drops in crime over the last decade.
The Police Commissioner and a host of law enforcement officials tell us that it is critical that the police build relationships of trust with the communities they serve. An NYPD inspector general would contribute to improving these relationships by increasing transparency and promoting confidence in the police.
Over the last decade, the New York City Police Department (NYPD), like state and local law enforcement agencies around the country, has become increasingly involved in collecting counterterrorism intelligence. But the NYPD’s counterterrorism and intelligence gathering operations are unique among municipal police departments, both in size and character. The magnitude of these operations vastly exceeds that of similar efforts in other major cities: In 2010, the NYPD’s budget for counterterrorism and intelligence was over $100 million and the two divisions reportedly employed 1000 officers. Equally important, while New York City police cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on counterterrorism matters, they also conduct intelligence operations and investigations completely separate from federal authorities. The creation of this stand-alone capability was a stated goal of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, and is an accomplishment frequently highlighted by the Department.
Unlike the FBI and other national intelligence agencies, the NYPD’s sizable counterterrorism and intelligence operations operate largely free from independent oversight. Currently, oversight of the NYPD – as conducted by the Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, the Commission to Combat Police Corruption and the Civilian Complaint Review Board – focuses almost exclusively on police corruption and individual police misconduct. The City-wide Department of Investigation similarly focuses on corruption, incompetence, and misconduct in 300 municipal agencies and, in any event, does not cover the police. The City Council has supervisory jurisdiction over the police, but has rarely examined its intelligence operations. Control mechanisms established by a 1980s consent decree largely have been eliminated.
In the federal system, Congressional supervision informed by reports from independent inspectors general has been a crucial tool for increasing transparency, accountability, and effectiveness in the realm of intelligence and counterterrorism. This oversight system was developed in the wake of the 1970s Congressional investigations into the FBI’s and the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) illegal collection of intelligence about Americans, and both agencies have operated for decades under its strictures. Even after the September 11th attacks, this system continues to function well and has, in fact, been strengthened. The FBI, in particular, has benefitted from a robust inspector general who has contributed to the effectiveness of its counterterrorism programs through reviews of issues ranging from the need for the Bureau to develop a comprehensive risk assessment of the terrorist threat to its use of the new intelligence techniques that have been authorized over the last decade.
Given that the NYPD has built an intelligence and counterterrorism capability more in line with the FBI than a traditional urban police force, it is time to build an oversight structure that is appropriate for its size and functions. An independent inspector general should be established for the NYPD. This would be an enormous step forward for police accountability and oversight for several reasons:
• ENSURING TRANSPARENCY – The inspector general would be in a position to make policing more transparent, thus allowing the Mayor and the City Council to better exercise their oversight responsibilities and increase public confidence in policing. Reliable information about how policies and legal constraints are implemented is especially important in the context of intelligence operations, the specifics of which are often necessarily concealed.
• PROTECTING CIVIL LIBERTIES – As the NYPD continues its important work of keeping New Yorkers safe, the inspector general would have the mandate, expertise, and perspective to make sure that it does so consistent with our constitutionally guaranteed liberties.
• REFORMING FROM WITHIN – The inspector general would be in a position to work with the police cooperatively to address any problems in the Department’s operations and to keep track of progress.