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Policy Solution

A Proposal for an NYPD Inspector General

Published: September 10, 2012

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.

Exec­ut­ive Summary

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.