NEW YORK -- Bill de Blasio thinks the NYPD can be reprogrammed to respect the Constitution -- and he's talking literally.
In an interview with The Huffington Post on Friday, the city public advocate and mayoral race frontrunner suggested ways in which the police force could improve its relations with the city's communities and continue to bring down crime.
There's no one reason why there are so many fewer murders now than in the bad old days of the 1980s, de Blasio said. But he believes an "exceedingly effective, large police force," as well as community participation in the form of neighborhood associations and tenant patrols, have all played a part.
"But I will say, despite all the tremendous progress which must be sustained, there's still the nagging problem of police-community relations, that really is troubled in a lot of neighborhoods," he said. "I think if you resolve that you actually open the door for another wave of increasing safety."
Changes to CompStat may help achieve that, de Blasio said. CompStat is the NYPD's computer-based approach to managing crime by statistically monitoring, and it has been widely credited with helping reduce violence in the city over the last two decades.
CompStat can be reprogrammed to prioritize a "clearer capacity of our police force to achieve public safety while respecting constitutional rights," de Blasio said, adding that he's even talked with former police commissioner Bill Bratton to make sure that's possible.
For example, CompStat could be adjusted in response to U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin's August decision that the use of stop and frisk violated the Constitution.
"You can actually plug that set of ideals into CompStat," he said. "Which will inevitably mean, of course because of the judge's decision, the federal decision as well, you will bring down the number of stops."
But how far? The police conducted 533,042 stops during 2012, most of which happened to blacks and Latinos.
Asked whether 100,000 stops would still be too many, de Blasio responded, "It's not the place of someone running for mayor to say, 'here's our target number.'"
One more community relations problem has nagged the NYPD for the last two years, since the Associated Press began an explosive series of reports on its existence: the police force's widespread surveillance on Muslim communities inside the city and even outside it.
Targeted by constitutional lawsuits, the city's lawyers have claimed, to the incredulity of civil liberties attorneys, that the Muslim surveillance program does not exist, arguing that the police only does surveillance when following leads.
Asked whether the city's claims were credible, de Blasio didn't give a direct answer but suggested that he would like to see an end to certain practices, like labeling entire mosques "terrorist enterprises."
"To me it's not about terminology," he said. "I think we have seen some very substantial reporting that raises a lot of troubling questions about whether surveillance is being undertaken without there being a specific lead being followed, or whether surveillance is being undertaken in a very broad brush manner, particularly against certain mosques on a wholesale basis."