Policing the Police

The spate of scandals in the New York Police Department is disheartening. Officers have been accused of crimes ranging from gun-smuggling to ticket-fixing. Others have been convicted of planting false evidence—drugs—on suspects to meet arrest quotas that the department insists do not exist.

Clearly something is amiss in the department. But calls for an outside, independent body to monitor the department are overheated and, simply, wrong-headed. True, the department’s own Internal Affairs Bureau clearly has not been doing its job. But the proper response to the department’s institutional flaws should begin with a reform of the institution itself, not with the imposition of an outside entity that very likely would do more harm than good.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has presided over a continued decline in crime, something many thought would be impossible after the historic decline of the Giuliani years. Commissioner Kelly knows the department better than anybody—he started in the N.Y.P.D. as a beat cop and now has been commissioner for well more than a decade, counting his time as David Dinkins’s commissioner in the early 1990s.

Commissioner Kelly should be given the opportunity to show that New York’s Finest can—and will—do a better job of rooting out rogue cops than it has in the recent past. It is not an easy assignment, for the N.Y.P.D., like so many other institutions, often seeks to protect itself and its reputation at the expense of justice. That said, there is a mechanism within the department designed to investigate wrong-doing by police officers. Mr. Kelly should be given the chance to show that a reformed Internal Affairs Bureau will pursue aggressively any future allegations of misconduct against the police.

The N.Y.P.D. is the linchpin of the city’s reputation as one of the world’s safest big cities. It cannot be seen as a refuge for lawbreakers. But by the same token, it does not need—not yet, anyway—an outside agency to monitor and investigate its officers.