The New York City Police Department is, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “seventh largest army in the world.” He states,
I have my own army…I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance. We have the United Nations in New York, and so we have an entree into the diplomatic world that Washington does not have.
As of December 2011 Bloomberg’s army numbers, according to Wikipedia:
slightly over 36,000 with the graduation of a class of 1,500 from the New York City Police Academy. The NYPD’s current authorized uniformed strength is 36,000. There are also approximately 4,500 Auxiliary Police Officers, 5,000 School Safety Agents, 2,300 Traffic Enforcement Agents, and 370 Traffic Enforcement Supervisors currently employed by the department.
Much of what many Americans know about the NYPD can be summed up in five words: “Law and Order” and “Amadou Diallo.” What many don’t know is the extent of civil rights abuses that take place in the normal routines of Bloomberg’s quasi-private army. Writes Leonard Levitt, author of NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country’s Greatest Police Force:
There are no safeguards to ensure that the NYPD doesn’t break the law. So far as I know, there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that the NYPD does not become a rogue organization.
In a recent John Whitehead commentary, the noted constitutional attorney writes:
Although the NYPD was recognized for its countless acts of bravery during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the department has gained notoriety in recent years for its overt racial profiling, a spying program which targets Muslim communities and political activists, and a stop-and-frisk program that has targeted more than 4 million New Yorkers—the majority of whom were black or Latino and had done nothing wrong—over the course of the past seven years.
Boasting a $4.5 billion budget, a counterterrorism unit that includes 35,000 uniformed police officers and 15,000 civilians, and a $3 billion joint operations center with representatives from the FBI, FEMA, and the military, the NYPD operates much like an autonomous Department of Homeland Security—only without the constraints of the Constitution.
The NYPD’s latest toy is Terahertz Imaging Detection, which allows police officers to peek under people’s clothing as they walk the streets. The NYPD cooperated with the US Department of Defense in creating this portable scanning technology. The NYPD even has the capability to take down an aircraft should the need arise.
The NYPD not only employs the latest technologies but also utilizes crackdowns and scare tactics that keep New Yorkers in a state of compliance.
One increasingly invasive NYPD tactic is the practice of stopping and frisking everyday people on the street without any evidence of wrongdoing. These activities are a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. In 2011 alone, 684,330 people were stopped and frisked by the police, a 14% increase since 2010. 88% were totally innocent. 59% were black. 26% were Latino. 9% were white. 41% of the stops were men of color between the ages of 14 and 24, but they only account for 7.2% of the city’s population. Less than one percent of the stops led to an arrest for firearm possession. The fact that the vast majority of people stopped are racial minorities indicates that the NYPD is executing a punitive policy against regular New Yorkers based upon racial profiling.
The radical increase in stop-and-frisks has occurred entirely under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s watch. In his first year in office, fewer than 100,000 people were stopped. That number has now ballooned to over 600,000 per year.
As with any other police force, NYPD suffers from a fair amount of corruption. One officer, Michael Dargjati, was arrested for a racially motivated stop-and-frisk and false arrest of a black man on Staten Island. He had allegedly been caught bragging to a female friend that he had “fried another nigger… no big deal.” Officer Stephen Anderson as well admitted in court to routinely planting drugs on people so as to meet department quotas, a practice that he claimed was common amongst police officers. And in 2011, 12 people, including five NYC police officers, were arrested for smuggling $1 million worth of cigarettes, guns, and slot machines into the city.
In short, the civil liberties of all those, including tourists, who walk the New York streets, particularly if they belong to ethnic and religious minorities, are being trampled upon in order to maintain an illusion of safety. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, like many other government officials, uses the specter of terrorism to haunt the citizens of New York, in order to justify his department’s disregard for civil liberties. Kelly says, “What we’re trying to do is save lives, and the tactics and strategies that we’ve used on the streets of this city have indeed saved lives.” As of May 2011, 89% of New Yorkers approve of these heavy-handed tactics.
Following the specter of 9/11 was a fear as visceral as any our country has known since Pearl Harbor and the Cold War. However, the destructive inroads that run amuck over constitutional freedoms are most easily paved during periods of fear. Whitehead closes his commentary,
One thing is for sure: what’s happening in New York illustrates how easily people are led into the illusion that security should trump freedom. However, as past regimes illustrate, such security measures eventually become tools of terror against the citizens themselves.
Read the commentary in its entirety at the original site This commentary was also the source of the opening quotes.