Many question the value of NYC 'police panel'
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
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.
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
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.