The City Council thinks it knows what’s ailing the Police Department. It needs greater oversight. It needs another layer of bureaucracy in its command structure—an inspector general.
Somebody really needs to remind council members that the NYPD has built-in accountability and oversight. The mayor appoints a police commissioner, who serves at the pleasure of the mayor. If the commissioner messes up or fails to carry out the policy directives of the mayor, he or she will be out of work in an instant.
But the Council has decided to solve a problem that does not exist, and, even worse, it is considering legislation that will provide a terribly flawed answer to the nonexistent problem. According to one interpretation of the Council’s bill, the inspector general’s office could be subject to political pressure from council members, which would invariably call into question any investigation.
Council members surely must know that district attorneys and federal prosecutors have the power to investigate perceived police misconduct, and the department itself rigorously investigates every discharge from a police officer’s weapon. These mechanisms cannot eliminate misconduct, of course, but they do provide an extraordinary level of oversight.
Not coincidentally, the Council’s actions come at a time when the NYPD’s policy of stop, question and frisk is coming under increased fire from the usual band of professional critics, including several council members. A federal court is hearing arguments about the policy’s legality, with a decision expected after about a month of testimony.
There’s no question that stop, question and frisk is aggressive, proactive policing. There also is no question that the policy has led to fewer killings, muggings, burglaries and other violent crimes in neighborhoods where death was a daily visitor not so long ago.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he will veto the inspector general bill if it passes the Council. That’s a relief. But Mr. Bloomberg will be out of office in less than a year, and it’s entirely possible that a supporter of the legislation, like Council Speaker Christine Quinn, will be in his place.
Effective policing has helped make New York the safest large city in the country—nobody would have predicted that outcome in 1993. The next mayor must be as tough and creative as the last two in keeping the city’s streets safe, especially in historically crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Handcuffing the police won’t get the job done.