Citing weeks of protests as having shaken faith in the NYPD, New York State attorney general Letitia James recommended stripping New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s authority in law-enforcement matters in a new report released Wednesday.
James has called to end the mayor’s ability to appoint the police commissioner and to oversee the hiring and firing of officers. The state attorney general instead recommended granting that power to an independent panel made up of representatives appointed by the City Council, the mayor’s office, the city’s public advocate, and the city comptroller’s office.
“It is impossible to deny that many New Yorkers have lost faith in law enforcement,” James told reporters, according to the New York Times. “I believe we need to bridge the undeniable divide between police and the public.”
The 57-page report is the result of hearings on a series of incidents that occurred between protestors and police officers in weeks of unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The state attorney general’s office had received more than 1,300 complaints of police misconduct at the protests, including one case where an NYPD officer can be seen on video shoving a woman to the ground, and another where an officer was seen pulling down the mask of a protester before pepper spraying him in the face.
While the report notes that Detroit and San Francisco have independent commissions to oversee police, such a system in New York is likely to face opposition from City Hall, police unions, and leaders of the NYPD. Appointing police commissioners has been the responsibility of New York City’s mayors since the 19th century.
James does not have the power as attorney general to institute her proposed changes, which would likely require actions by the city council and state legislature.
The report also calls on the city’s police department to end its practice of “kettling,” a tactic that police employed last month during protests which involves surrounding protesters and arresting them.
James urged New Yorkers to stop relying on the police in situations such as traffic enforcement, school safety, homeless outreach, and crisis intervention and called on the city to legalize or decriminalize more minor “quality of life” offenses, which she says “are already not greatly enforced in predominantly white neighborhoods.”
NYPD’s chief spokesman Richard Esposito said the report’s recommendations are unnecessary and called James’s investigation “political,” the Times reported.
James, a Democrat, is an ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has often squabbled with de Blasio. In June, Cuomo called de Blasio’s handling of rioting in the city a “disgrace” and threatened to “displace” the mayor if necessary.
Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for de Blasio, rejected the notion of removing the mayor’s control over police matters, telling the Times, “While we thank the attorney general for her investigation and look forward to reviewing the report in full and working together to further reform policing in this city, we do not believe creating a commission to oversee the N.Y.P.D. does that.”