Albion Monitor /News

NY Police Review Board Gets Giuliani Veto

by Marvette Darien and Farhan Haq

on this topic
(IPS) -- NEW YORK Despite a growing number of protests against police brutality, the recent veto by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of an independent police review board shows the problems that remain in monitoring abuses by the officers.

"My commitment to combatting corruption is strong," Giuliani said Oct 30 as he vetoed the New York City Council's proposal to create a five-member independent review board, of which two members would be nominated by the Council. "But I believe that the Police Department is, and should continue to be, the first line of defense against police corruption."

Giuliani, who won re-election easily in mayoral voting last week, said that an independent board given "unlimited investigative powers" would "do more harm than good."

Incidents of New York police brutality, shootings, and deaths in police custody had risen in recent years
City Council officials, who approved the proposal by 40 to 7 -- or by more than the 34 votes needed to override Giuliani's veto -- plan to keep fighting for the review board, following a summer in which the alleged rape of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima by police officers focused new attention on police brutality complaints.

Peter Vallone, the City Council president, said that the proposed board was needed to establish "a permanent structure to combat corruption" after other bodies, such as the New York Police Department's (NYPD's) own Internal Affairs Division, have failed.

The review board, Vallone argued, "is a way to ensure that an honest cop at the bottom of the totem pole, who wants to report corruption, has a place to go other than where the corruption is occurring."

Regardless of whether the Council is successful in overturning Giuliani's veto, the current controversy shows the rising level of public concern over police brutality. Two weeks ago, activist groups across the nation staged protests against corrupt or abusive police, including the second major anti-brutality demonstration since Louima was allegedly beaten and assaulted with a bathroom plunger by Brooklyn police on Aug. 9.

The incident sparked widespread outrage, forcing even the mayor, traditionally a staunch police defender, to condemn the act as he rushed to the hospital where Louima was recuperating. The attack also spurred Giuliani to increase the budget of the department's Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and to appoint a task force to recommend other measures to curb brutality.

The U.S. Justice Department also intends to investigate allegations of brutality by the NYPD.

Nevertheless, although New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir has called reports of police abuse "very troubling," the police have downplayed reports of any major problems with the department.

"It is outrageous to say that police abuse is an epidemic," says NYPD spokesman Lenny Alcivar. "That is the worst type of generalization that one can make about a department that has committed itself not only to reducing crime successfully, but also to working with the community to ensure that police officers (act) in the way that they would like themselves and their families to be treated."

Alcivar cited falling crime rates and a drop in the number of civilian complaints against police within the last three years as evidence that complaints of widespread abuse "fly in the face of facts."

Official statistics show that in New York City, the number of murders fell by 61 percent since 1993, rape by 13 percent and armed robbery by 47 percent. But the price of these successes was increased freedom by the police to use force in making arrests, say some critics, especially in black and Latino neighborhoods.

The October 22 Coalition, a gathering of activist and human rights groups which organized last week's demonstrations, has documented the names and circumstances of more 300 persons killed by police and U.S. Border Patrol officers since 1990 as part of its "Stolen Lives Project."

New York City cops have been a particular source of problems, Amnesty International argued in a 1996 report. The rights group found that incidents of police brutality, shootings, and deaths in police custody had risen in recent years.

"People are not aware of how much police abuse goes on, especially in poor communities"
According to Amnesty International, claims filed against the city's police more than doubled, from 977 in 1987 to more than 2,000 in 1994. More that two-thirds of the victims in the cases reviewed were black or Hispanic and most of the police officers involved were white, the report stated.

The report also noted that, according to the Police Department's own statistics reported by its Civilian Complaints Review Board, the number of civilians who died in police custody from police shootings rose from 15 in 1993 to 23 in 1994, Giuliani's first year as mayor.

"Our first conclusion is that police brutality in New York City appears to be a persistent, widespread and long-standing problem which is not limited to minorities and may be a sign of a wider police culture," David Marshall, an Amnesty International lawyer, said after the release of last year's report. "Some police officers act as if they have a green light to abuse any citizen of New York City, in the confidence that they will never be held accountable for what they do."

Many African-Americans living in New York agree. "It is clearly a repressive system of law enforcement that the police are using," said Andre English, an undergraduate at the State University of New York. "The police don't get prosecuted because the officials are behind them."

Nor is the problem restricted to New York. "By and large, people are not aware of how much police abuse goes on, especially in poor communities," said James Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild's Los Angeles chapter and an organizer of the nationwide protests. "If you ask most police officers, they would say there is no abuse...They don't keep the kinds of records that they should."

Although New York has been the focus of brutality complaints this year, the Los Angeles Police Department became notorious after the 1991 beating of African-American motorist Rodney King by four white police officers was videotaped by a witness.

The department again came under scrutiny during the murder trial of football star O.J. Simpson, when audio tapes containing racist remarks made by one of the investigative detectives, Mark Fuhrman, were released, broadcasting Fuhrman's claims that white officers sometimes intentionally make false arrests of black people or manufacture evidence against them.

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Albion Monitor November 10, 1997 (

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