During last week’s City Council hearings on legislation that would require the NYPD to disclose more about how it surveils the public, police officials essentially told council members, who last year paid for an extra 1,300 cops for the department, to go away.
Police officials answered almost every question by suggesting terrorists would be given a “road map” or “blueprint” to attack NYC.
Pointing to terrorism to justify expanding surveillance while keeping the public in the dark is a classic game plan. But almost 16 years after 9/11, will that approach hold today?
The NYPD sure thinks so. Its terror czar, John Miller, a former FBI spokesman and network TV reporter, has pushed the revolving door between law enforcement and media. That’s why he and NYPD legal eagle Larry Byrne were on cable TV a few days later forecasting an apocalypse if the bill is passed. The public relations battle is in full swing.
We need information to hold NYPD accountable
Police have a record of overstating the threat of legislation and reform. In 1992, off-duty cops rioted at City Hall when the council wanted to create the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which has largely proved ineffective at deterring police misconduct. A few years ago, the NYPD repeatedly said that if stop-and-frisks were reduced, crime would spike.
The NYPD is (again) exaggerating the impact of this legislation, known as the Public Oversight of Police Technology, which is meager in its demands. Nothing in it would fundamentally curb the NYPD’s surveillance power. It would require reporting and evaluation of surveillance technology. But even that’s too much for police.
The NYPD’s surveillance apparatus is a reflection of its power. No other municipal agency in the country has its influence and independence. Earlier this month, a judge approved NYC’s $75 million settlement in a suit over bogus police summonses. Was the NYPD punished? No. Who paid for it? We did.
A more effective approach to oversight might be linked to the NYPD budget, not piecemeal reforms that it will oppose or water down. If the NYPD can’t adhere to basic transparency, its funding should be withheld. Unfortunately, lawmakers don’t call the shots in NYC — the police do.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.