Police Commissioner James O’Neill said that today that his department is “comfortable” with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s selection of a former federal judge as the independent civilian monitor to a new committee created to oversee investigations into political and religious groups—despite criticism from a well-connected Muslim political group that the administration had failed to consult local communities about the pick.
Yesterday, de Blasio announced that Judge Stephen Robinson, currently a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s New York office, would serve as the monitor. This followed a federal court’s approval of proposed adjustments to the Handschu Guidelines—court-mandated rules governing the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau’s investigations of political activity mandated in the Patrol Guide—which will resolve two lawsuits alleging inappropriate surveillance of Muslims.
As part of the settlements, the city agreed to appoint an independent civilian representative to the internal NYPD committee to assure New Yorkers that the Police Department uses best practice in intelligence investigations and decisions.
“We’re comfortable with the process and with the selection and it’s the mayor’s selection so I’m good with the selection,” O’Neill told the Observer at a press conference at the NYPD’s headquarters at One Police Plaza.
The Muslim Democratic Club of New York, New York City’s first Muslim political club, said the decision was made with no input from affected communities or New Yorkers at large, noting that they were also uncomfortable with Robinson’s previous role as deputy general counsel to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which they said has a “long and sordid history of discriminatory law enforcement” aimed at members of the Islamic faith. The club counts among its co-founders activist Linda Sarsour, who attained national prominence as one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington following President Donald Trump‘s inauguration.
The organization asserted that if the mayor does not hold public meetings to address their concerns, it would call into question his commitment to protecting the civil rights and liberties of all New Yorkers regardless of religion or background.
“We call upon the mayor and Judge Robinson to immediately hold public meetings with Muslim New Yorkers and other impacted communities to hear our expectations of him in his new role and explain how his independence can be assured given that the mayor and the commissioner were the only parties involved in his appointment,” the group said in a statement released earlier this afternoon.
“Further, we call for a schedule of periodic public meetings throughout Judge Robinson’s term, to ensure that he remains accountable to the New Yorkers whom he has been appointed to represent,” the group continued.
They also expressed concern about the fact that he was selected in consultation with former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, noting the former top cop’s role in popularizing the “broken windows” policing method, which controversially emphasizes enforcement of quality-of-life laws. The MCDNY objected that Robinson would be tasked with monitoring the “very Police Department” Bratton headed.
“While the settlement allows for the mayor to consult with the commissioner on the appointment, consulting only with the commissioner reads as a betrayal of the spirit of the settlement and makes a mockery of the notion of independence,” the group said.
Austin Finan, a spokesman for the mayor, said that de Blasio has met all the requested criteria of the petitioners in the Raza v. City of New York suit.
“The engagement the Raza plaintiffs have requested is exactly what was contemplated and what former Judge Robinson has already agreed to do,” Finan said in an emailed statement.
Larry Byrne, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for legal matters, told the Observer that the position resulted from settlement negotiations that span longer than two years and involved “very experienced” plaintiffs attorneys for both the plaintiffs in the Eastern District of New York and the Handschu case.
He also said that it was “out there publicly” that the mayor would make the appointment, noting that after a “thorough consideration” of the issues, he believes the mayor selected someone whose credentials everyone has “confidence” in. In a statement released yesterday, de Blasio praised Robinson as the right person to ensure that all New Yorkers feel “safe and protected.”
“Judge Robinson has spent his career working to ensure Americans are treated equally and justly under the law, and I know he shares this administration’s commitment to transparency and fairness,” he said.
Robinson served as a U.S. District Judge in the Southern District of New York and as the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut. While serving as the FBI’s deputy general counsel, he participated in the probe into the Oklahoma City bombing/ He also sat on the board of directors of the Brennan Center for Justice.
“Hard to imagine that you could find one person with all of those credentials, but the mayor did that,” Byrne said. “So we’re very comfortable with the selection and the process of how it was going to be selected was public.”