NEW YORK — In a politically charged standoff over police oversight in the nation's biggest city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday he'd veto a plan to put the New York Police Department under an outside watchdog's scrutiny, calling it a threat to hard-won safety.
But City Council Speaker Christine Quinn – a frequent Bloomberg ally who's been seen as likely to get his support to succeed him as mayor next year – said she'd guarantee a veto override if needed to create an inspector general for police, a proposal fueled by criticism of the police department's widespread use of the tactic known as stop and frisk and its surveillance of Muslims, spying revealed in a series of stories by The Associated Press.
A day after Quinn signaled the measure would pass the council after months in limbo, dividing lines were dug deeper over the plan, which would install a monitor with the power to subpoena documents and witnesses and the mandate to look at the procedures and policies of the nation's biggest police department.
Bloomberg urged lawmakers to oppose the plan, saying it would usher in an era of second-guessing for a police force that has worked to drive killings to record lows.
"Make no mistake about it: This bill jeopardizes that progress and will put the lives of New Yorkers and our police officers at risk," he said at the opening of a computer data center in a downtown high-rise – an example, he said, of economic activity flourishing in a city seen as safe. "...We cannot afford to play election-year politics with the safety of our city."
Quinn, however, said there was "absolutely no validity" to suggesting that more monitoring would compromise crime-fighting. She argues that closer scrutiny could instead help policing by building public confidence in officers.
"We have a situation right now in this city, whether we like it or not, where some of the practices of the Police Department have caused significant rifts between police and the community," she said at a news conference.
Quinn and colleagues backing the inspector general proposal reached an agreement on it Tuesday, positioning it to move toward a vote in the coming weeks. Quinn said Wednesday that talks were continuing on other proposals to set new rules surrounding stop and frisk: They would require officers to explain why they are stopping people and would give people more latitude to sue over stops they considered biased, among other provisions.
The developments come during a federal trial over the department's use of stop and frisk, and they follow AP stories that revealed how city police infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and otherwise spied on Muslims as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks. Adding to the attention surrounding stop and frisk, violent protests rocked a Brooklyn neighborhood last week after police stopped a teen and ended up shooting him dead; they say he pulled out a gun.
Broached last year, the inspector general and stop-and-frisk proposals have become heated issues in November's competitive mayoral election; Bloomberg is term-limited.
Quinn, a top Democratic candidate, has faced pressure from civil rights and minority advocates and from some of her Democratic rivals to get the measures passed. One Democratic contender, Bill de Blasio, pressed the need for an inspector general at a news conference Tuesday, before Quinn announced lawmakers had agreed on it. Democrat Bill Thompson's campaign said the former city comptroller also supports the idea.
But some other hopefuls are speaking out against the plan for a monitor, including Democratic former Councilman Sal Albanese and Republicans John Catsimatidis, a billionaire businessman, and Joseph Lhota, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion's campaign said the Democrat-turned-independent, who's running on the Independence Party line and seeking the GOP nomination, also opposes the IG idea.
Republican George McDonald, who runs an organization that helps the homeless, is inclined to support the proposal but needs more details, a spokesman said.
The NYPD has said its surveillance of Muslims is legal and that stop and frisk has helped combat crime and save lives. The term refers to the police practice of stopping, questioning and sometimes patting down people who are seen as acting suspiciously but who don't necessarily meet the probable-cause standard for arrest.
Many government agencies, including the FBI and CIA, have inspectors general, or officials with investigative powers to explore conduct within the agency. So do the Los Angeles Police Department and other forces.
Civil rights advocates say the NYPD should, too. The inspector general would be housed within the city's Department of Investigation, which performs that function for many other city agencies.
Efforts to establish outside watchdogs for the NYPD go back decades. Voters in 1966 defeated a plan to put civilians on a board that reviewed complaints about police; more than 20 years later, private citizens ultimately were appointed to and now make up the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which deals mainly with allegations of misconduct against individual officers. A special commission that explored a 1990s police corruption scandal recommended empowering an ongoing, independent board to investigate corruption; a Commission to Combat Police Corruption was established in 1995, but it lacks subpoena power.
The Police Department has its own 700-person Internal Affairs Bureau that examines officers' conduct, and courts have exercised some oversight, including through a 1985 federal court settlement that set guidelines for the NYPD's intelligence-gathering.
Supporters say an inspector general would look more broadly at police activities than the current agencies do. But Bloomberg said they already provide robust monitoring and noted that prosecutors can pursue charges against officers suspected of criminal misconduct.
The council proposal, he said, amounted to "a policy supervisor" who could conflict with the police commissioner.
"There would be questions in the ranks of police officers about who's really in charge and whose policies they should follow," Bloomberg said.
Quinn rebuffed those concerns, saying the inspector general would issue reports and shine a light on the workings of the police department, but not change policy.
Civil rights and police reform advocates said they were pleased with the pact on the inspector general measure but were continuing to press for the other measures. Police unions condemned the inspector general idea as squandering resources on red tape, and the police department said it gets plenty of oversight.
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