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Many question the value of NYC 'police panel'

Giuliani August 28, 1997
Web posted at: 9:08 p.m. EDT (0108 GMT)

From Correspondent Peg Tyre

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Recently facing angry protests over allegations that police sexually tortured a Haitian immigrant, Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced the formation of a blue-ribbon panel aimed at improving relations between police and the community. But after a handful of meetings, some members of the panel are ready to walk.

Giuliani said the commission was being formed to promote dialogue with the police.

"The police have to understand the communities that they are serving better, and be more supportive when police officers are acting improperly," the mayor said. "Communities have to be more supportive of the police."

But some of Giuliani's chief critics on the panel don't think the meetings have been productive.

"So far the best we have gotten is talk and some of the things we talk is double-talk," said Norm Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union.


Abner Louima says police attacked him inside a bathroom at the 70th Precinct station house, sodomizing him with the handle of a toilet plunger. He suffered internal injuries in the August 9 attack, which prosecutors say was racially motivated.

Four police officers have been charged in the attack. Louima has filed a $55 million lawsuit against the city, although his attorneys said they will amend that to seek $465 million.

On Friday, anti-police brutality demonstrators plan to march across the Brooklyn Bridge for a rally outside City Hall.

In fact, the history of police reform in New York City is one of public posturing and private neglect. Critics suggest that little has been done to sustain anti-corruption efforts in the New York Police Department.

The Knapp Commission

In 1971, the Knapp Commission rocked the city with testimony about systemic police corruption. Former police officer Frank Serpico, whose allegations prompted the Knapp Commission, takes a cynical view of Giuliani's newly announced panel.

"It's just talk until they start doing something about it and stop lying about what really happened," Serpico said.

In 1993, allegations of police brutality and corruption prompted the Mollen Commission, which charged that brutality and corruption were inextricably linked. Judge Milton Mollen was the head of that commission.

"I recall when the Knapp Commissioner report came out in 1972, they said ...they hoped there would not be another commission necessary in 20 years," Mollen said. "And almost 20 years from the date, our commission was created."

Around the country, police administrators have found that to keep their houses in order they need an outside monitor, someone to scrutinize investigations into police misconduct. That is a step that New York's mayor, backed by a powerful police union, has rejected.

Lawyer Joel Berger used to defend the city against police brutality cases. Now he brings police brutality suits against the city. "People have short memories. They don't remember the last commission from 15 years ago," Berger said.

And meanwhile, a community, shocked by allegations of torture, calls for real reform.


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