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Reviving the NYPD Inspector General

The office needs more resources, access, and autonomy to carry out its critical oversight duties.

Published: April 25, 2023

In 2013, the New York City Council established an Office of the Inspector General (IG) for the New York City Police Department, a major step toward increasing accountability strongly supported by the Brennan Center. At the time, the NYPD was under fire for its racially biased stop-and-frisk program and its post-9/11 surveillance of Muslims.

Unlike other NYPD oversight bodies that focus on individual cases, the IG aimed to investigate and review the department’s policies and practices. Its work was meant to provide transparency and accountability, protect civil liberties, and promote police reform. In its early years, the IG’s office conducted valuable investigations and published reports detailing problems with NYPD policies and practices, which often burdened minorities. In many cases, these reports triggered important reforms.

But the IG’s recent work has not lived up to its early promise. Its output has dwindled, and the office has faced a lack of leadership and staff as well as serious obstacles in getting information from the police. It also appears that the IG’s autonomy has been undermined. The NYPD IG must be revitalized so it can once again perform its critical function of ensuring that the nation’s largest police force does not go unchecked.

Creation of the NYPD Inspector General

In 2012, the Associated Press broke the news that the NYPD was monitoring and mapping Muslim communities, infiltrating mosques, and tracking Muslim student groups without any suspicion of criminal activity. A direct result of the NYPD’s post-9/11 expansion of its counterterrorism and intelligence operations, this surveillance program had ballooned unchecked.

At the same time, the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy was being challenged in court and in the streets for targeting Black and Latino New Yorkers. Of the 4.4 million stops made between 2004 and 2012, more than 80 percent of those stopped were Black and Latino despite the higher likelihood of finding weapons and drugs during a stop of white individuals.

A broad coalition of New Yorkers advocated strenuously for reform. In 2013, as part of a package of measures titled the Community Safety Act, the city council enacted Local Law 70  establishing an inspector general for the NYPD. The law was passed over the strong opposition of the police and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose veto was overridden by the city council.

The law, which took effect on January 1, 2014, placed the IG’s office within the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI), which is tasked with investigating misconduct at city agencies. The DOI commissioner is charged with appointing an inspector general who will:

investigate, review, study, audit and make recommendations relating to the operations, policies, programs and practices, including ongoing partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, of the new york city police department with the goal of enhancing the effectiveness of the department, increasing public safety, protecting civil liberties and civil rights, and increasing the public’s confidence in the police force, thus building stronger police-community relations.

This structure gives the IG access to the DOI’s powerful investigatory tools, which include the authority to demand documents from other city agencies, the ability to compel the testimony of city employees, and the power to issue subpoenas. The DOI has a long history of exercising these authorities, providing an established base from which the IG can build. However, putting the IG under the DOI’s authority enables the department’s commissioner to exercise enormous influence over the IG’s operations. At the time the law was passed, this arrangement caused some concern among proponents of police oversight because the DOI collaborates with the NYPD for some of its own investigations, setting up a potential conflict between its culture and operations and those of the IG.

In 2014, Philip Eure, a respected police accountability expert who had served as the executive director of the District of Columbia’s Office of Police Complaints and as a trial attorney in the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, was picked to head the IG’s office. Eure was given a $5 million budget to open the office and hire up to 50 employees, including lawyers, analysts, and investigators. The large budget and staff, as well as the appointment of a prominent figure like Eure, signaled then-Mayor Bill De Blasio’s recognition of the need to bring accountability to the police force. In a reflection of the unique nature of the IG, and unlike other inspectors general within the DOI, Eure reported directly to the DOI commissioner.

Early Years of Operation

In its first years of operation, the IG showed great potential, even though it faced a reluctant police department. In the words of former DOI Commissioner Mark Peters, “Despite the NYPD’s lack of cooperation, [the IG] produced unprecedented reports.” Its investigations were key to providing transparency into NYPD practices, advancing the goal of racial justice, and, in many cases, prompting concrete improvements.

The office’s first investigation in 2015 was a response to the city council’s call to review the police killing of Eric Garner in July 2014. The IG found that the NYPD did not adequately discipline the use of chokeholds by its officers, giving them light punishments or none at all. This prompted the Civilian Complaint Review Board — an NYPD oversight body that investigates allegations of individual police misconduct — to share newly filed use-of-force complaints with the NYPD that would give the police early information about potential uses of chokeholds. It also encouraged the review board and the NYPD to share body-worn camera footage of incidents. These measures help ensure that officers who use chokeholds are properly disciplined.

The IG’s follow-up investigation of the NYPD’s use of force found that 88 percent of people complaining that the police had used excessive force against them were Black or Hispanic, even though these groups made up 52 percent of the city’s population. Subsequently, the NYPD revised its policies to include specific factors that justify the use of force, rolled out a new worksheet for officers to complete about incidents involving force, and adopted a new internal case management system to track such cases. The city then enacted a law requiring public reporting on encounters where force was used. The department now publishes annual use-of-force reports and maintains a publicly accessible use-of-force dashboard. These changes enhance transparency and accountability and help the department understand and address the conditions leading to uses of force.

Also in 2015, the IG investigated how the police tracked civil lawsuits, including claims of misconduct, against officers and the department. In fiscal years 2009–2014, 15,000 such cases were filed, costing taxpayers over $202 million. The IG found that the NYPD did not adequately track data from those suits to identify problem officers in need of performance interventions, a practice that could prevent future misconduct and, thus, lower litigation rates. In response, the city council passed a bill requiring recurring reporting by the NYPD and IG on civil misconduct claims, providing lawmakers and the public with a clearer picture of these cases.

In addition, the NYPD began publicly sharing information about its Early Intervention Program, which uses litigation data and other factors to detect officers who have committed or appear likely to commit acts of misconduct. Once identified, the police take steps to reduce the risk of future incidents, including through training, mentoring, investigating, and supervising officers. Lawsuits alleging police misconduct declined by 49 percent between 2014–2018, a change that both the NYPD and IG attributed to better case tracking. These numbers have continued to decline since 2018, with the exception of a spike in 2021–2022 triggered by the police response to 2020 racial justice protests and large payouts for a small number of cases.

After the IG substantiated claims that the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit was understaffed and did not treat victims properly, the city enacted laws requiring recurring staffing reports from the division, special victims training, and better case management. Afterward, press reports indicated that the department “nearly doubled its number of investigators for adult sex crimes, raised their experience requirements and took steps to improve the division’s facilities.”

In response to the police’s Muslim surveillance program, the IG undertook an investigation of the NYPD’s compliance with the settlement terms agreed to in Handschu v. Special Services Division, a lawsuit challenging NYPD monitoring and surveillance of political activity. The review found that the police extended years-long investigations without adequate authorization and used boilerplate language in requests to reauthorize the use of undercover officers and confidential informants. The court in charge of the settlement pointed to this report to push for stricter limits on continuing investigations and the use of informants, a measure that was ultimately incorporated into the settlement.

Following a federal court ruling that NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practice was unconstitutional, the police began tracking and investigating allegations of biased policing in 2014. The IG found that between 2014–2018, the NYPD rejected each of the 2,500 complaints it received. The IG pointed to myriad issues in how the police handled complaints and recommended that the Civilian Complaint Review Board take over these investigations. The city council agreed and expanded the review board’s mandate to include these cases in order to ensure that they were fairly resolved.

In short, the IG has a proven track record of effectively bringing some measure of transparency, accountability, and reform to the NYPD. Nevertheless, the police have not always accepted the IG’s recommendations and in many cases have delayed implementation, requiring the office to continue to track compliance. Concerns about NYPD policies and practices have not diminished, and the need for robust IG oversight remains.


The IG is struggling to continue providing its necessary oversight amid a series of challenges that have impaired its operations. There are four main issues that must be addressed to allow the office to fulfill its duties.

Diminishing and Delayed Output

Over the years, the number of IG-initiated investigations has significantly declined. Leaving aside statutorily mandated reports, in the first five years after it opened its doors in 2014, the office published 12 investigative reports. In the last four years, it has released only three.

While some of the slowdown may be attributable to the pandemic and staffing issues, several investigations have been held up for far longer, with three pending since before 2020. One critical investigation, a review of the NYPD’s gang database, was open for almost five years. The database is a list of individuals the NYPD believes to be affiliated with gangs. These databases have long been of concern to civil rights and community groups across the country. Indeed, cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles have abandoned the use of similar gang databases after finding false data, racial bias, and concerns about unfounded gang designations being shared with other city and federal agencies, including immigration authorities.

After multiple requests from local advocacy organizations and city council members, the IG finally opened an investigation into the database in 2018, although it did not make this decision public until 2021. Last year, current DOI Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber assured the city council that the report would be published before 2023. It was finally released on April 18, 2023, five years after it was started.

The IG confirmed that 99 percent of the over 16,000 individuals in NYPD’s gang database are Black or Latino. Of those, 10 percent are minors, with some children added to the database at 11 years old. The report showed that police use vague criteria for tagging New Yorkers as gang members and that even these loose standards are often not followed. The IG found that social media–based justifications for gang designations were “cursory, conclusory, and failed to include sufficient detail . . . in a number of instances, certain emojis, alone, or photographs of individuals in the company of known gang members, without more detail, were deemed sufficient.”

This is hardly surprising given that, according to the IG, the police lack written policies or guidance for what types of information warrant inclusion in the database. Similarly, even though the NYPD requires that names be deleted from the database after two to three years if there is no further contact with law enforcement, there is no clear written guidance as to the nature and quality of such contact, resulting in the department providing little to no justification for keeping names on the list. And the department is often late in conducting reviews to boot, making it harder to promptly identify and remove people who have been needlessly included in the database. These findings echo long-standing arguments by advocates that the gang database is arbitrary and targets people of color.

The IG’s report, however, conspicuously fails to address the consequences of being tagged as a gang member. The report says it “could not identify a relationship between inclusion in [the database] and any individual adverse outcomes.” But the IG does not appear to have independently examined the issue by, for example, cross-referencing the names on the list with other records or interrogating how the thousands of patrol officers who have access to the database use its contents in the course of conducting stops. The reasons for these shortcomings are not detailed, but together with the protracted delay in the report’s release, they surely raise questions about the extent to which the report was insulated from NYPD pressure.

The IG’s office also issues periodic reports that are required by statute, including its annual report and so-called Section 808 reports, which evaluate information on police misconduct. The IG is mandated to complete an annual audit of police compliance with the POST Act, which requires the police to provide information about its surveillance tools. These types of reports have made up half of those issued by the office since 2019. While they have mostly been released in a timely fashion, the first POST Act audit was issued over a year late in November 2022, and only in the face of pressure from the city council and advocacy groups. It was ultimately a very valuable undertaking, highlighting the NYPD’s pro forma approach to its own reporting obligations and pointing out deficiencies in the language of the POST Act that allow the NYPD to sidestep surveillance oversight.

Leadership and Staffing

A permanent inspector general is critical to ensuring that this important office has the leadership necessary to navigate relationships and provide direction and support to staff. But since late 2021, the office has been led by an acting inspector general. A 2022 job offer to former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Guria was rescinded after allegations of sexual harassment.

The IG position, which was reposted in November 2022, requires only four years of postgraduate experience, far less than Eure’s impressive 14-year stint leading the DC Office of Police Complaints. While this is the minimum requirement, it hardly suggests to potential candidates that the city is seeking the type of seasoned leader the office needs.

The number of staff working for the IG has fallen from 38 at its peak in 2017 to around 18 today, with funding earmarked for only 22 positions for this year. According to reports from former IG staff, over the years, the NYPD’s stonewalling of IG investigations and the DOI’s recommendation that the IG be merged with the Civilian Complaint Review Board lowered office morale and drove experienced staff to leave. Staff attrition has only been compounded by the pandemic and a city-wide hiring freeze. Thus, a mere 18 individuals without the leadership of an actual inspector general are tasked with overseeing the policies and practices of a police department of 55,000 personnel.

Access to Information 

Since the IG became operational, the NYPD has sought to prevent the office from obtaining information and has obstructed the office’s ability to conduct its investigations.

According to former Inspector General Eure, NYPD stonewalling has had “a tremendously negative impact on [the work of the IG] and has slowed production” of investigative reports. For example, during the investigation for its 2018 report on NYPD litigation data, the IG was unable to update and verify findings because the police refused to provide certain information and interfered with interviews. And during the IG’s investigation of the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s access to body-worn camera footage of police misconduct incidents, the NYPD refused to make representatives available for interview, instead insisting on submitting a written memorandum.

Eure’s assessment was echoed by the staff in his office. Over a dozen employees told ProPublica that the NYPD “restricted the Inspector General’s access to records and witnesses, withholding information the office was legally entitled to, excessively redacting material or providing it in formats difficult to review, instructing witnesses to cancel interviews and delaying requests for as long as two years.”

The police have even discouraged officers from cooperating with the IG. The former deputy chief of the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit claims he was told to slow-walk requests for information and “give one-word answers,” was “scolded” for telling the truth, and was demoted in retaliation. In 2018, the relationship between the NYPD and the IG was so broken that Eure wrote to the police commissioner recommending disciplinary action against NYPD lawyers who had obstructed an investigation by directing witnesses called by the IG not to appear.

The NYPD has at times justified its recalcitrance in producing documents and witnesses on the theory that the IG’s authority to access information from city agencies is narrower than that of the DOI under mayoral Executive Order 16. The order authorizes the DOI to “examine, copy or remove any document prepared, maintained or held by any [City] agency” and to take testimony from other agency employees in order to fulfill its responsibility for the “investigation and elimination of corrupt or other criminal activity, conflicts of interest, unethical conduct, misconduct and incompetence.” According to the police, this authority only extends to the DOI’s investigations of misconduct, not to the IG’s “policy and practice” systemic investigations.

There is no merit to this theory. E.O. 16 does not distinguish between different types of investigations, and other inspectors general within the DOI also carry out (albeit to a lesser extent) these types of systemic reviews. Moreover, even a cursory glance at laws establishing federal and local law enforcement inspectors general reveals they employ language similar to that of E.O. 16, under which these offices conduct the same types of systemic policies and practices investigations for which the NYPD IG was created. The DOI, too, has made clear that the IG’s “authority on paper is already extensive and thorough” and its investigations “employ the same evidence-gathering tools as other DOI investigations,” including those under E.O. 16.

Practical barriers erected by the police mean that the NYPD IG has less access to information than the other inspectors general within the DOI and across the country. Many inspectors general within the DOI have direct access to the personnel, facilities, records, and databases of the city agencies that they oversee. This is also typical for police inspectors general in other cities. The Los Angeles Police Department IG, for example, has direct access to the LAPD’s risk management database, and the Seattle Police Department IG has direct access to police investigation files. The NYPD IG, however, must negotiate access by submitting information requests through the Inspector General Compliance Unit, which a former deputy inspector general termed the “gatekeeper for access.” But even this unit does not often have the authority to provide records, with real decision-making power lying with the NYPD Legal Bureau or other executives. This bureaucratic arrangement — which is only imposed on the NYPD IG — naturally contributes to slower and less fulsome production of information.

Independence and Autonomy 

Locating the IG within the DOI was intended to strengthen the office’s investigative authorities and has often worked in support of oversight. But this structure has caused tensions as well. As the DOI itself acknowledged in its 2020 report, DOI’s core mission requires regular collaboration with the NYPD, which could lead to a perceived lack of independence.

While some back and forth between the DOI commissioner and the IG is to be expected, press reports suggest that the DOI commissioner has exercised inordinate control over the IG’s public communications, investigations, and reporting. The reports allege that then-DOI Commissioner Peters prevented the IG from opening an investigation into the NYPD’s gang database and kept reports from being released, including ones about officers lying under oath and an unconfirmed report on the NYPD’s vice unit.

In another sign of the IG’s apparent subordination, the DOI published a report in 2020 under its own name on the police response to protests over the killing of George Floyd. While the report was thorough and provided useful recommendations, its subject matter falls clearly within the IG’s mandate, and publishing it as a DOI report may be seen as undermining the IG’s role and authority as the NYPD’s overseer. The DOI has also changed the structure of the office so that the IG no longer reports directly to the DOI commissioner as it did until last year. Instead, the IG reports to the DOI commissioner through the deputy commissioner/chief of investigations and the first deputy commissioner. This arrangement risks hampering the IG’s ability to quickly elevate access issues with the NYPD for resolution, a problem that is not common with the other inspectors general within the DOI.

The IG’s web presence has also been downgraded. Its Twitter account, an important source of information on filing complaints and new reports, went dark between 2018–2022, only posting one retweet in 2020 about the DOI’s investigation into the George Floyd protests. And its separate website is now a webpage nested within the DOI’s website.

A Reform Agenda

Given the challenges the IG is facing, reforms are vital to ensure it can independently and effectively oversee the NYPD’s policing practices. To that end, we have outlined proposals for strengthening the office.


Transparency is the hallmark of oversight, and the IG’s office should do better in keeping the public and policymakers apprised of its activities. To achieve this, we recommend the following:

  • Open investigations. Currently, the IG must disclose the number of open investigations in its annual report, but not their subject matter. While there is an understandable need to keep investigations confidential during their early stages, there should be more transparency from the IG’s office. The DOI and IG can take this step of their own accord. Alternatively, the city council should amend Local Law 70 to require the office to include in its annual report the subject matter of systemic investigations that have been open for one year or more and to list the reports expected to be issued in the following 12 months.

Leadership and Staffing

While budget cuts have caused major staffing issues, staff were leaving the office long before reductions were instituted, and the lack of a permanent leader has only added to the problem. We recommend the following:

  • Appoint an inspector general. It is past time for the DOI to appoint a permanent inspector general with demonstrated ability in police oversight and investigations.
  • Mandate timely hiring of the NYPD inspector general. There is no statutory requirement that the DOI fill the NYPD inspector general position in a timely manner. The city council should amend Local Law 70 (2013) to include such a requirement.
  • Staffing. The mayor and city council should ensure that the IG’s staffing level is proportional to that of the NYPD, as is the case with the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
  • Report on hiring. The city council should require that information on hiring be included in the IG’s annual reports to confirm it is making the necessary efforts to fill all vacancies.


To carry out its duties, the IG must have access to all relevant NYPD information and personnel. This requires the following changes:

  • Clarify that DOI investigatory authorities are available for all NYPD IG investigations. The NYPD relies on a misinterpretation of the IG’s investigatory powers to prevent the office from getting critical information. The DOI and former Inspector General Eure have challenged the NYPD’s position to little effect. Mayor Eric Adams should clarify that mayoral Executive Order 16 on the DOI’s authority covers the full range of the IG’s investigations, and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell should ensure that the department complies with the order.
  • Ensure that the NYPD IG has the same level of access as other DOI inspectors general. Other inspectors general within the DOI have more direct access to the personnel, facilities, records, and databases of the agencies they oversee. Such access is the norm in other jurisdictions as well. While special arrangements may be necessary for certain types of information, the mayor, the police commissioner, and the DOI commissioner should work to eliminate unnecessary hurdles to effective oversight. The city council should amend Local Law 70 to provide that the IG has the same access to the NYPD’s personnel, facilities, records, and databases as other inspectors general within DOI.
  • Require reporting on access to information. In the past, reporting about the NYPD’s stonewalling of IG investigations has emerged through news stories or city council hearings. Better reporting to the city council is needed to understand the level of cooperation the NYPD provides for IG investigations. The city council should amend Local Law 70 to require the office’s annual reports to include a specific assessment of NYPD cooperation, covering key categories such as access to witnesses and documents and the timeliness and completeness of responses.

Independence and Autonomy

The success of inspectors general depends greatly on their independence, both real and perceived. To bolster this independence, we recommend the following steps:

  • Reinstate direct reporting. The DOI commissioner should reinstate direct reporting from the IG, which will enhance the office’s ability to navigate relationships with the police and signal its importance to stakeholders.
  • Restore the inspector general’s internet presence. The IG should be allowed to maintain its own website outside the DOI domain, which contributes to the perception of its independence.

• • •

Oversight is critical to ensuring that a large and powerful police force like the NYPD does not abuse its authority. The NYPD IG has a history of conducting serious investigations, producing high-quality reports exposing problems, and instigating important reforms. Mayor Adams, Police Commissioner Sewell, DOI Commissioner Strauber, and the city council share responsibility for making the office work and must do so as a matter of urgency.