Civil rights panel probes NYC police
May 26, 1999
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Mayor Rudy Giuliani defended the conduct of New York City's police department Wednesday at a U.S. Civil Rights Commission hearing into allegations of police brutality and other practices that have strained relations between officers and minority groups.
Giuliani told the commission, chaired by Mary Frances Berry, that the number of fatal shootings by police officers had decreased over the past 10 years. New York City police officers, he said, 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.
Police Commissioner Howard Safir was scheduled to testify later Wednesday. Among others testifying at a Manhattan hotel will be Dennis Walcott, president of the New York Urban League, Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union and alleged victims of brutality.
The commission, an independent, bipartisan panel, has held similar hearings in other cities.
Its findings, to be presented to President Clinton and Congress, could include a recommendation 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.
"What we want to find out is how do you get police officers like Officer Volpe on a police department in the first place," Berry told CNN Wednesday prior to the hearing.
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.
She told CNN the panel will ask the mayor and police commissioner if New York City has methods for weeding out "bad apples so you can protect civil rights."
Berry said that while the commission does not want to focus on any one 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.
Policeman in torture case changes plea to guilty
Official New York City Web site
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