Debate, rallies, hearings on NYPD oversight - New York News

Debate, rallies, hearings on NYPD oversight

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By TOM HAYS | AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg and top law enforcement officials Monday urged the City Council to vote down proposed legislation creating an outside watchdog for the New York Police Department, saying it would threaten public safety by inhibiting policing.

Council members are nearing a vote on a bill that would create an inspector general to monitor the NYPD's policies and procedures, including its widespread use of the practice known as stop and frisk and its surveillance of Muslims. A second bill would make it easier for people to sue the department over street stops they felt reflected racial profiling.

Bloomberg warned that the measures would reverse a historic drop in crime during his three terms in office. Reports of homicides and other serious offenses have fallen 34 percent since 2001, with the greatest reductions in low-income communities.

"New Yorkers must have policing that respects everyone's rights, including everyone's right to be safe on the streets," Bloomberg said at a news conference at police headquarters. "What we must not have is what these laws would create: A police department pointlessly hampered by outside intrusion and recklessly threatened by second-guessing by the courts."

The mayor was joined by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan and former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Opponents of the bills have argued that the city's five district attorneys and two U.S. attorneys have a solid track record of keeping civil rights abuses in check.

"We already have in place agencies that provide effective oversight and monitoring of the work done by police officers," Brown said. "We don't need another level of oversight."

Bloomberg, citing NYPD efforts to curb shootings by monitoring street gangs, claimed that the legislation would allow gang members to lodge anonymous complaints against the police.

"In the future, any police commissioner would have to dedicate precious resources to disproving anonymous complaints about such basic, fundamental police operations," the mayor said.

Potential restrictions on the NYPD's street-stop program, which the NYPD claims deters gun violence, would invite a wave of frivolous lawsuits that would tie officers "in endless depositions when they should be on patrol," said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

"Who will pay the greatest price for this? The law-abiding citizens of the city's poorest neighborhoods," Kelly said.

Earlier Monday, City Council members, civil rights advocates and other supporters gathered outside City Hall to push for passage of the legislation, saying it was needed to combat discrimination.

"We can and we must and we will keep New Yorkers safe without profiling our neighbors for aggressive policing based on their race or their religion or their sexual orientation," said City Councilman Brad Lander.

The supporters also accused opponents of misleading the public by suggesting that it would bar police from identifying suspects by race. City Councilman Jumaane Williams called on Kelly and others to "sit down with us and stop the fear-mongering and lying."

A series of stories by The Associated Press revealed how city police infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and otherwise spied on Muslims as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks. The NYPD says the practices were legal.

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