N.Y. Urges Sweeping NYPD Changes Amid Police Conduct Probe
(Bloomberg) -- New York Attorney General Letitia James proposed sweeping changes in the way New York City regulates the largest U.S. police department, including more oversight of many officer practices and strategies, and less authority for the police commissioner.
James, appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to investigate the NYPD’s relationship with city residents in the aftermath of protests of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, said that incident represented “a defining moment in the history of America, an inflection point.”
James heard from hundreds of witnesses and reviewed more than 1,300 submissions of officials, police officers and civilians. Her preliminary recommendations include a review of police responsibilities for non-criminal activity -- such as homelessness, mental health assistance calls, school attendance and discipline -- that she said are beyond the scope of the police department.
She also called for creation of a public oversight panel with power to hire and fire the police commissioner and have unfettered access to all department records.
“After more than 30 days of intense scrutiny, it is impossible to deny that many Americans have lost faith in law enforcement,” James said during a news conference Wednesday. “Trust is essential and critical to effective law enforcement.”
During the height of the recent demonstrations, James said, Black protesters were disproportionately charged with felonies compared with White and Hispanic people. She criticized the department’s disciplinary processes, saying that between 2014 and 2018, not a single officer was fired after a recommendation from the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.
The attorney general’s recommendations aren’t binding and would require action by the City Council or state legislature, James said. Her investigation will continue to examine police practices such as “kettling,” in which crowds are penned into an enclosed area, with a goal of making the NYPD more transparent and accountable, she said.
The NYPD’s chief spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Richard Esposito, rejected many of James’s assertions and proposals. “This is of course a political and not an investigative document,” he said. “Rather than rehash rhetoric, we should come together -- state and local law enforcement and elected officials -- and confront and solve the crisis at hand.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a statement through his spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein, thanking James and promising to “work together to further reform policing.”
The mayor rejects the idea of a police oversight commission, Goldstein said, citing actions in the past seven years to curb stop-and-frisk street encounters, institute de-escalation and anti-bias training, and equipping its 36,000 officers with body cameras. “Change comes from accountability, something a commission lacks,” she said.
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