By JENNIFER PELTZAssociated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - In a politically charged standoff over police oversight in the nation's biggest city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday he'd veto a plan to put the New York Police Department under an outside watchdog's scrutiny, calling it a threat to hard-won safety.
But City Council Speaker Christine Quinn - a frequent Bloomberg ally and a leading candidate to succeed him as mayor - said she'd guarantee a veto override if needed to create an inspector general for police, a proposal fueled by criticism of the police department's widespread use of the tactic known as stop and frisk and its surveillance of Muslims, spying revealed in a series of stories by The Associated Press.
A day after Quinn signaled the measure would pass the council after months in limbo, dividing lines were dug deeper over the plan, which would install a monitor with the power to subpoena documents and witnesses and the mandate to look broadly at the procedures and policies of the nation's biggest police department.
Bloomberg urged lawmakers to oppose the plan, saying it would usher in an era of second-guessing for a police force that has worked to drive killings and some other crimes to record lows.
"Make no mistake about it: This bill jeopardizes that progress and will put the lives of New Yorkers and our police officers at risk," he said at the opening of a computer data center in a downtown high-rise - an example, he said, of economic activity flourishing in a city seen as safe. "...We cannot afford to play election-year politics with the safety of our city."
Quinn, however, said there was "absolutely no validity" to suggesting that more monitoring would compromise crime-fighting.
"There is no correlation, in my opinion, between watching politics and practices and keeping people safe," she said, adding that closer scrutiny could instead help policing by building public confidence in officers.
"We have a situation right now in the city, whether we like it or not, where some of the policies and practices of the Police Department have caused significant rifts between police and some of the community," she said at a news conference.
Quinn and colleagues backing the inspector general proposal reached an agreement on it Tuesday, positioning it to move toward a vote in the coming weeks. Quinn said Wednesday that talks were continuing on three proposals to set new rules surrounding stop and frisk: They would require officers to explain why they are stopping people, to tell people when they have a right to refuse a search and to give people more latitude to sue over stops they considered biased, among other provisions.
The developments come amid a federal trial over the department's use of stop and frisk, and they follow AP stories that revealed how city police systematically spied on Muslims, listening in on sermons, hanging out at cafes and other public places, infiltrating colleges and photographing people as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks. Adding to the attention surrounding stop and frisk, days of sometimes violent protests rocked a Brooklyn neighborhood last week after police stopped a teen and ended up shooting him dead; they say he pulled out a gun.
Broached last year, the inspector general and stop-and-frisk proposals have become heated issues in November's competitive mayoral election; Bloomberg is term-limited.
Quinn, a top Democratic candidate, has faced pressure from civil rights and minority advocates and from some of her Democratic rivals to get the measures passed. One Democratic contender, Bill de Blasio, pressed the need for an inspector general at a news conference Tuesday, before Quinn announced lawmakers had agreed on it.
But some other hopefuls spoke out Wednesday against the plan for a monitor, including Democratic former Councilman Sal Albanese and Republican John Catsimatidis, a billionaire businessman.
The NYPD has said its surveillance of Muslims is legal and that stop and frisk has helped combat crime and save lives by taking weapons off the street. Stop and frisk refers to the police practice of stopping, questioning and sometimes patting down people who are seen as acting suspiciously but who don't necessarily meet the probable-cause standard for arrest.
Many government agencies, including the FBI and CIA, have inspectors general, or officials with investigative powers to explore conduct within the agency. So do the Los Angeles Police Department and other forces.
Civil rights advocates say the NYPD should have the same type of oversight. The inspector general would be housed within the city's Department of Investigation, which acts as an inspector general for many other city agencies.
Bloomberg said the NYPD already gets robust oversight from its 700-person Internal Affairs Bureau, a civilian complaint board, a police corruption commission, prosecutors and judges.
The council proposal, he said, amounted to "a policy supervisor, and I don't think any rational person would say we need two competing police commissioners. There would be questions in the ranks of police officers about who's really in charge and whose policies they should follow."
Quinn rebuffed those concerns, saying the inspector general would issue reports and shine a light on the workings of the police department, but not change policy.
"I think it is an important additional monitoring device for the Police Department," she said.
Civil rights and police reform advocates said they were pleased with the pact on the inspector general measure but were continuing to press for the other measures. Police unions condemned the inspector general idea as squandering resources on red tape, and the police department said it gets plenty of oversight.
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