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NYPD Faces Prospect of Two New, Separate Watchdogs

By Jennifer Peltz

After years of burnishing a reputation as one of the nation’s most potent police forces, the New York Police Department appears poised to become one of the most closely monitored.

A federal judge said the department made thousands of racially discriminatory street stops and appointed a monitor to direct changes. And city lawmakers are readying for a final vote on creating an inspector general for the NYPD and widening the legal path for pursuing claims of police bias.

It’s a one-two punch of outside tinkering that will muddy police work, a pair of complementary steps to protect civil rights or a rash of policymaking that may end up meaning little on the street, depending on who gets asked. But from any perspective, it would be the onset of a new era of oversight for the country’s biggest police department, though the impacts would be defined by particulars and politics still in play.

The federal ruling outlines but doesn’t always detail reforms, and the city plans to appeal it. The City Council, if it succeeds in overriding a mayoral veto, would establish a monitor but not select the person or specify exactly what gets investigated. And a new mayor will take office next year, which could well mean new police leadership.

“The complexity, at this point, is that there are so many moving parts,” said John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Eugene O’Donnell, who isn’t involved in the litigation or legislation. “And it doesn’t help that it became very adversarial.”

Some other police forces, including the Los Angeles Police Department, also have had both court monitoring and an inspector general. The NYPD was under a 1980s federal consent decree that involved undercover and surveillance techniques, but this would be an unprecedented level of outside scrutiny for the agency.

Advocates see distinct roles for each of the prospective new NYPD watchdogs, who would have different scopes and powers. They wouldn’t directly intersect, deriving their authority from different parts of government.

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