The U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn is one of two Federal prosecutors' offices that consult with the New York Police Department before police respond to large-scale public protests. A lack of transparency by both Federal and Municipal law enforcement may be to blame for the NYPD's culture of secrecy. Progress New York/File Photograph

EDITORIAL : To restore faith in Government, U.S. Attorneys must shine a light of transparency on the NYPD

For one-off cases of NYPD misconduct, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices sometimes come into public view. When the police misconduct complaints are systemic in nature, they go into hiding.

By the Editor

For weeks, New York City has been swept up in a whirlwind of the Coronavirus pandemic, anti-racism protests, and police brutality scandals. More and more, news media have revealed that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) were to blame for the unpreparedness for and mismanagement of the pandemic. As both political leaders have attempted to feign ignorance or to shift blame, they’ve both been quick to admit that systemic racism, particularly in policing, has been a long-standing problem that they did not create. In the flashpoint of protest and debate over a lack of police oversight and accountability, two Government offices known for their silence have kept resolutely quiet and still : The U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The Federal prosecutors’ offices have showed up in the public radar before, notably when Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue announced in 2019 that no charges would be filed against New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold homicide of Eric Garner. The office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney similarly gave a pass in 2016 to a group of NYPD officers in the suspicious shooting death of Ramarley Graham in his own bathroom. For one-off cases, such as these, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices sometimes come into view. But when the complaints about the NYPD are systemic in nature, they go into hiding.

One opaque Law Enforcement Agency has oversight over another opaque Law Enforcement Agency.

The offices of U.S. Attorneys form part of the U.S. Department of Justice, an Agency which believes it can comply with Government transparency laws, including the Freedom of Information Act, at its sole discretion, an unlawful posturing that is unfortunately routinely reinforced during open records litigation by the Federal Courts and by Government lawyers at the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, including those in Brooklyn and Manhattan. That culture of impunity is reflected at the NYPD. New York City Councilmember Mark Treyger (D-Bensonhurst) has complained about the NYPD refusing to comply with a law requiring the police to report on metal detectors and scanners in schools. When Councilmember Treyger suggested that school principals evaluate school safety performance, he encountered resistance and complained that the evaluations never took place.

There is such a failure of accountability at the NYPD that Albany legislators had to repeal a law that was reported to have been deliberately misinterpreted by Mayor de Blasio in a corrupt effort to block disclosure of NYPD officers’ disciplinary records. Critics of Mayor de Blasio’s misinterpretation of the law blamed him for violating Government transparency laws by withholding the release of records many considered eligible for release under open records laws.

In connection with large-scale public demonstrations or civil protests, the NYPD consult with U.S. Attorneys regarding investigations of Federal crimes or issues of national security, as reported by Progress New York. Given those consultations, U.S. Attorneys are in a position to question the NYPD about allegations of police misconduct and about their violation of Government transparency laws, particularly if those violations are related to the NYPD’s actions to squash large-scale public demonstrations or civil protests. But, true to the opaque nature of law enforcement — whether Federal or Municipal — there is no clarity on those consultations, or whether any oversight has been or is exercised by Federal authorities as a result of allegations of Municipal police misconduct.

The public’s confidence in Government has collapsed.

Besides one-off consultations between the NYPD and U.S. Attorneys for matters pertaining to Federal crimes or national security, as is required by the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Domestic FBI Operations, it is not known what process or procedure the NYPD follow that give their controversial Strategic Response Group authority, either one-off, periodic, or standing, to suppress large-scale protest activities as a Law Enforcement Agency. An anti-terrorism unit that was created by former NYPD Commissioner Willliam Bratton, the SRG unit has been deployed to squash large-scale civil uprisings, including during recent anti-racism protests in New York City. During the recent anti-racism protests, the NYPD have engaged in dragnet arrests that have threatened journalists and swept up legal observers. In the past, such indiscriminate arrests have been deemed unlawful. As reported by the precursor to Progress New York, the Federal Government has appeared to have given itself authority to criminalise civilian activities protected by the First Amendment based on biases against certain political ideologies. For several reports published by Progress New York, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan have declined to comment.

The Government’s heavy-handed use of force to squash civilian uprisings are rooted in the State’s interest in self-preservation. But public confidence in New York’s Municipal Government has collapsed, because the Government has countenanced systemic racism and corruption, despite laws making such conditions unlawful. The de Blasio administration has been described to be in a state of “implosion” by the New York Daily News. If the Government cared about restoring the public’s faith in Government, it would immediately bring transparency to all matters of law enforcement, beginning with the NYPD, its SRG unit, and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices.

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