A Balancing Act for the NYPD's New Watchdog

Philip Eure Discusses the Challenges of Being the First Inspector General for the New York City Police Department

New York, February 25, 2016—The recently appointed Inspector General for the New York City Police Department (NYPD) says he must “hold the department’s feet to the fire” to adopt substantive policy changes, even as his office performs a balancing act to retain a “cooperative working relationship” with the department and its commissioner, William (Bill) J. Bratton.

Inspector General Philip K. Eure explained the challenges his office contends with during a Feb. 16 event at Columbia Law School sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) and Social Justice Initiatives, and moderated by CAPI's Executive Director Jennifer G. Rodgers.
The Office of the Inspector General is not officially part of the NYPD. Rather, it is an independent unit of the city’s Department of Investigation, which, among other things, conducts corruption probes of various agencies in municipal government. The Inspector General audits and reviews the operations and practices of the NYPD, and then makes recommendations for systemic reforms. Like other oversight institutions, the Inspector General has subpoena power, and is granted significant access to the department, but his remedies are limited to making recommendations to the police commissioner and releasing his reports publicly.
Eure was an attorney in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice before spending 14 years as the executive director of the District of Columbia’s Office of Police Complaints. He was appointed to the new Inspector General position in May 2014. The office had been created the previous year by the New York City Council, amid criticism of the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk and surveillance of Muslim communities. The Council overrode a veto from then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Eure said the Office of Inspector General has received support from leaders across city government, providing “a basis for the possibility of success.”
“You’ve got a mayor who’s very committed to police reform; you’ve got a police commissioner in Bratton who gets it,” he said. “As never before, I think the will exists here, but it doesn’t mean that the police department doesn’t need constant prodding on their position.”
His office has been more than willing to prod during its short existence. Its first report, released in January 2015, studied the use of chokeholds by officers from 2009 to 2014, ultimately recommending the department make a number of changes to its disciplinary process. Four reports have been released since then, ranging from use of force to the implementation of body cameras. The use-of-force report was highly critical of the NYPD’s “vague” policies and lack of discipline, though it found that there had been efforts to improve training after the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner.
As Eure’s office can only make recommendations and issue reports, he said it would need to “enlighten” all stakeholders about the need for improvement and substantive change. In addition to making the public aware of the issues, he would like to actively engage police.
“That's really key, I think, to an office that does systemic reviews,” he said, adding that the Office of Inspector General will release a review in early April noting which recommendations the department has and hasn’t implemented.
Eure said more places are creating similar police oversight offices, but so far they lack data on best practices. He mentioned models in English-speaking countries like Canada and Australia, but also pointed to cities in Germany and France, which have become increasingly interested in the value of external watchdogs, especially as Europe becomes more diverse.
“There’s definitely, even beyond the English-speaking world, greater interest in police accountability issues,” Eure said.
At the end of his formal talk, Eure took questions from CAPI’s Rodgers, who then opened up the floor to questions from the audience.