As city politicians argue over a bill that would establish an independent Inspector General with oversight over the NYPD, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the city's stop-and-frisk lawsuit recommending just that, in the event that the presiding judge finds that the NYPD's implementation of its stop-and-frisk practice is unconstitutional.
Judge Shira Scheindlin has yet to issue a decision in the stop-and-frisk trial, and the DoJ's stated interest exists only if she decides against the city, finding that the implementation of stop-and-frisk by the NYPD unjustly targets black and Hispanic people and is a systematic violation of the Fourth Amendment right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
The DoJ statement is entirely contingent on the court finding a constitutional violation— it does not attest that there is one.
If she does find a need for reform, though, the Justice Department asked that she consider a court-appointed monitor—and moreover, that she consider making the DoJ that court-appointed monitor.
"A court-appointed monitor in this case would help the Court ensure that, if any pattern or practice is found to exist, it is effectively and sustainably remedied," the statement read. "The experience of the United State in enforcing police reform injunctions teaches that the appointment of an independent monitor is a critically important asset to the courts, the parties, and the community in cases involving patterns or practices of unlawful conduct by law enforcement officials."
In the 21-page statement, the Justice Department cites its experience engaging in reform efforts with several police forces in the past, including addresses systemic issues in the execution of stops and searches.
The DoJ stated that an independent monitor "can reduce unnecessary delays and litigation over disputes regarding compliance" and "should non-compliance be identified, early and objective detection by the monitor, as well as the identification of barriers to compliance, allows the parties to undertake corrective action, which saves the parties, the Court, and, importantly, the City precious time and resources."
The experience the Department emphasized the most was a consent decree entered into with Pittsburgh in 1997 to address issues with police using excessive force in searches and seizures.
After the appointment of a federal monitor, the Justice Department said, the city came into compliance with the decree in 1999 and the injunction due to the finding of excessive force was lifted 2002.
A branch of the Department of Justice, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), apparently analyzed the work done with Pittsburgh and found that a court-appointed monitor is a critical element of effective reform.
According to the Department of Justice, in the Pittsburgh case, the federal monitor effectively put together a plan of action, provided a compliance manual with milestones and stages, held early meetings with community leaders and effectively offered reassurance that change was coming, and cultivated a collaborative instead of adversarial relationship with city officials "making it easier for them to accept some of the more difficult terms of the decree."
Advocates of an Inspector General have been quick to express support and enthusiasm for the Justice Department's proposal.
Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called the proposal "welcome and long overdue."
"The NYCLU has for years been asking the Department of Justice to come into New York and put an end to the NYPD's abuse of stop-and-frisk," she said.
City Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu said the DoJ's statement "should be a sobering wake-up call for Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly."
But Liu, perhaps the most outspoken opponent of stop-and-frisk among the mayoral candidates, brushed aside the idea of a monitor as a solution.
"Simply abolishing stop and frisk would alleviate concerns about management of the NYPD," Liu said.
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