Editorial: Justice Dept. prematurely urges NYPD oversight
Here's a question for the Justice Department:
If U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin decides that the NYPD has failed to carry out stop-and-frisk operations in a constitutional manner, why not give Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly the first crack at repairing or scrapping the program?
A 10-week court trial focusing on the controversial NYPD tactic ended late last month -- and no one knows how the judge might rule. Evidence shows that the NYPD made credible efforts to respect constitutional rights against unlawful searches as officers proceeded with the program on the streets. But whether everyone involved in stop-and-frisk operations grasped these departmental imperatives and acted on them is an open question.
Now -- in an 11th-hour filing that smacks of politics -- the Justice Department says it would endorse the imposition of an independent monitor on the NYPD if the judge rules against the city. This is precisely what the NYPD, the City of New York and its 8.4 million citizens do not need.
If stop-and-frisk has problems, it's not because Bloomberg and Kelly have been blind or indifferent to its constitutional complexities. They stepped up training in 2012 after a judge raised questions about the program, and stops fell by 22 percent. But Bloomberg and Kelly do want to preserve stop-and-frisk as a useful -- and carefully applied -- tactic as they work to keep streets safer.
For that they should face the specter of an outside NYPD monitor? For that they should forfeit a significant degree of departmental control?
Why the intrusion? If the judge rules that stop-and-frisk is flawed, Bloomberg and Kelly -- or their successors -- at least deserve a chance to comply with the court's orders.
Running any large organization is a challenge. Running an organization of 30,000-plus gun-carrying officers is a special challenge. But if there are endemic problems in the NYPD, it's hard to see how blurring the lines of authority would help.
Yet that's what the Justice Department would suggest. What a strangely misguided and very premature mistake.