New York officials defend police at civil rights hearing
May 26, 1999
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir defended New York City police Wednesday before a U.S. Civil Rights Commission examining allegations of brutality and other practices that have stirred controversy.
The recent turmoil sparked by two high-profile cases against the New York police -- involving the slaying of an unarmed African immigrant and allegations of torture and sodomy brought by a Haitian immigrant -- is "certainly not unique to New York City," Safir told the commission.
"Relative to crime out of 201 cities that report to the FBI, the Uniform Crime Report, we are 166 .... which means we are not only the safest large city, we are safest compared to cities with hundreds of thousands," Safir said.
Mayor Giuliani was also armed with statistics when he answered questions earlier Wednesday.
Guiliani said that the number of fatal shootings by police officers had decreased during the past 10 years and boasted that New York City police officers have a "degree of restraint which is virtually unmatched in the country."
When asked why the number of civilian complaints of abuse by police was on the rise, Giuliani said that reflects the increase in the size of the police force.
Such answers were clearly not enough for some of the panel's other witnesses.
"There have been some improvements in the police department (and) we applaud those," said the Rev. Calvin Butts, a vocal community civil rights leader.
"But at what price are we to applaud that process? At the price of a man being sodomized in a precinct?"
Dennis Walcott, president of the New York Urban League, Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and several alleged victims of police brutality also testified during the all-day hearing at a Manhattan hotel.
The commission -- an independent, bipartisan panel chaired by Mary Frances Berry -- is to present its findings to President Clinton and Congress. In the most extreme case, the commission could recommend that the New York Police Department come under some form of federal supervision.
Wednesday's hearing comes amid the Brooklyn Federal Court trial of four New York City police officers accused of civil rights violations in the torture case of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.
A fifth officer, Justin Volpe, pleaded guilty on Tuesday.
Another case that has received national scrutiny is the slaying of Amadou Diallo, a street vendor from Guinea who was killed in New York City in February when four white police officers fired 41 shots, striking him 19 times. The officers are to be tried next year.
Berry said that while the commission does not want to focus on any particular incident, it does plan to investigate practices in New York City for establishing and maintaining standards of police conduct.
One such practice allows police to stop and frisk anyone who comes under "reasonable suspicion," as the department calls it, even if there is no direct evidence a crime has taken place.
Another police policy that has come under criticism is racial profiling -- using race and ethnicity as an indication of possible criminal activity.
"When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement," Berry said. "That makes the job of good police officers unsafe."
Correspondent Maria Hinojosa contributed to this report
Civil rights panel probes NYC police
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