The battle over police practices in New York is now being waged on paper. On April 27, one year after it first announced its investigation of the NYPD, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission released a much anticipated 250-page draft report. The Police Department weighed in on May 16 with an angry 700-page rebuttal.
The Commission faults the NYPD for inadequate diversity training and failed minority recruiting efforts, but its most serious charge is that police officers use racial profiling in their stop-and-frisk tactics. The report cites the Department's own records, which show that in Staten Island, for example, 51% of the people stopped in 1998 were black, though blacks make up only 9% of the borough's population.
The report dismisses the Department's claims that stop-and-frisks occur most often in high-crime, minority neighborhoods, and that officers are simply responding to descriptions of suspects as reported to them. After reviewing nearly 150,000 records of stops made in 1998, the Commission determined that officers usually acted on their own judgments and observations, rather than victim identifications.
In its rebuttal, the NYPD disparages the report as "an unfortunate exercise in shoddy reporting" and "an embarrassment to the United States government." In particular, the Department ridicules the Commission's reliance on perennial police critics Al Sharpton and the New York Civil Liberties Union's Norman Siegel. Mayor Giuliani has called the report "a political operation of the Democratic Party," neatly timed to give Hillary Clinton a boost for her Senate run. (The Commission consists of an eight-member panel of four Democrats, three independents, and one Republican. The New York Observer has reported that the head of the Commission's head, Mary Frances Berry, has made campaign contributions to Hillary.
Jerome Sounds Off:
For all the controversy it has created, the Civil Rights Commission report contains little that New Yorkers haven't heard before. In restrained language, bolstered by numerous charts and citations of hundreds of thousands of documents reviewed by its panel, the report makes some familiar accusations, but also pats the NYPD on the back in several instances.
The Commission offers some remedies that are unrealistic (officers should live in the City) or ill-begotten (the elitist proposal that officers be required to have four-years of college instead of two because better-educated officers are less likely to engage in misconduct). Another recommendation, the formation of an independent monitor to review civilian complaints of police misconduct, would in effect create a second oversight agency to monitor the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
The Commission finally gets it right when it discusses the pressure felt throughout the NYPD„from Commanding Officers to beat cops„to produce arrests. Could it be that if the Department eases up on quotas to make collars and stands down the armies of Operation Condor personnel, it will help defuse the issue of police misconduct? It may be wishful thinking, but the Mayor's newest resolution to reach out to all the City's residents may give his administration one last chance to find out.
Jerome Chou is a freelance writer. He works part-time interviewing recently released ex-offenders about their re-entry into society.