Management & Labor

Court Oversight Nothing New for NYPD

Elsewhere across the country, a number of police departments have found themselves under federal court oversight, often in response to a broader range of alleged police misconduct than in the New York case.
August 13, 2013
 

There was no ambiguity about where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg stood on having a federal monitor oversee any portion of the New York Police Department.

 
Mr. Garaufis described the monitor he put in place for the New York Fire Department as his “eyes and ears.”
“This makes no sense whatsoever when lives are on the line to try to change the rules and hamper the police,” Mr. Bloomberg said in June. “You have to have clear responsibility, clear chains of command.”
 
Yet dealing with federal court oversight is not a novel experience for the city or the department.
 
In 1985, the department submitted to a court settlement giving a federal judge authority to oversee its investigations of political activity. The strictures of that oversight have changed over time, and were loosened substantially after the Sept. 11 attacks, but remain in place.
 
The Fire Department, called a “stubborn bastion of white male privilege” by a federal judge, has for the last three years been under the supervision of either a court-appointed monitor or a special master, charged with helping to carry out a plan to hire more minority firefighters.
 
That is just a small fraction of the time that the city’s Department of Correction has been under court supervision: a judge in the early 1970s ordered that the Tombs, the complex near Manhattan Criminal Court where inmates were held, be shut down because of abysmal conditions. When inmates were sent to Rikers Island, they sued over the conditions there. The resulting settlement led to a consent decree in the late 1970s that has kept Rikers Island under court supervision ever since.
 
Even mundane procedures often are vetted by the courts. For example, a federal judge’s order late last year dealt with how frequently light bulbs had to be changed at Rikers, to ensure inmates had enough light to read by.
 
Elsewhere across the country, a number of police departments have found themselves under federal court oversight, often in response to a broader range of alleged police misconduct than in the New York case. 

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