Cuomo renews call for NYPD federal monitor, challenges mayoral candidates on police reform

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday raised the possibility that a federal monitor could be put on the New York Police Department (NYPD), as well as challenged candidates vying for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s position during the election later this year to speak out on their proposals for police reform.

The state Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit earlier last month against the NYPD and its leadership over the treatment protesters against racial injustice following the death of George Floyd.

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“In New York City, the situation is even worse because the attorney general brought a lawsuit finding that the city police did abuse people and the attorney general’s lawsuit calls for a monitor to be put in place,” Cuomo said at a press conference Sunday, referencing the lawsuit seeking reforms including the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the NYPD’s policing tactics at future protests. 

The lawsuit is also seeking a court order declaring that the policies and practices the department used during the protests were unlawful.

Separately, Cuomo has come under fire after James released a report last week suggesting his state health department underreported coronavirus nursing home deaths by as much as 50%.

Focusing on the attorney general’s action against the NYPD, Cuomo explained that if a monitor is set in place, “then we go to yet another stage where it’s not really the mayor who’s in charge of the police. It’s not really the police commissioner who’s in charge of the police. It’s a monitor. And the monitor isn’t elected by anyone, it’s appointed by a court under the attorney general’s lawsuit.”

Cuomo then pivoted to the 2021 New York City mayoral election, challenging hopefuls – many of whom are already involved in city politics — to release their own plans for police reform.

 “I am surprised that there’s not more conversation about this in New York City,” the governor said. “You have a mayoral election coming up. There are a lot of issues to talk about. But how are you not talking about police reform?”

Cuomo directly addressed Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, who is a former police officer, asking “What’s your idea?” The governor continued, “I mean, Borough President Adams, he knows the situation very well from multiple sides. What is your position?”

Cuomo moved on to Scott Stringer, the city comptroller “who’s been there all this time,” asking again, “What’s your idea? You want to be mayor. What would you do about this? In concrete terms.”

“Right [now], a few months from a mayoral election, I don’t know what their positions are, I don’t know what their plans are,” Cuomo said. “Again, I am surprised. In the New York City mayoral election, you have incumbents running the controllers is an incumbent. Where have you been, what have you done? Where were you when Rome was burning?”

But Adams’ spokesman Evan Thies told New York Daily News that Adams “put out a widely reported comprehensive agenda for reform, including diversifying the department and holding bad cops responsible through historic transparency measures.”

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“We will forward Eric’s agenda for police reform to the governor,” he added. Meanwhile, Hazel Crampton-Hays, the press secretary at the comptroller’s office, told the newspaper that Stringer would “have more to say on this in the coming days.”

The union representing rank-and-file NYPD officers responded to Cuomo’s remarks about the lawsuit, again arguing that city leadership failed to give officers a plan while they risks their lives during violent demonstrations that broke out in the city over the summer.

“We will say it again: what we witnessed in June was a failure of New York City’s leadership,” NYC Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement provided to Fox News Monday. “They sent cops out to police unprecedented protests and violent riots with no plan, no strategy and no support. They should be forced to answer for the resulting chaos, instead of pointing fingers at cops on the streets and ignoring the criminals who attacked us with bricks and firebombs.”

The mayoral election will consist of Democratic and Republican primaries on June 22, 2021, followed by a general election on November 2, 2021. Last week, City Council, blaming “months of delays from the de Blasio Administration,” brought forward an 11-page legislative police reform package. Measures in the proposal include requiring that the next city police commissioner be approved by the City Council, as well as other methods to promote “non-carceral” interventions to community safety.

“The city council is moving. And to that, I say good for Speaker Corey Johnson because they have to pass a plan by April 1, that’s 60-something days,” Cuomo said Sunday. He added that he doesn’t have a specific opinion on whether City Council should confirm the police commissioner but said politicians need to take action to address rising crime, especially in Black and Brown communities. 

“Everyone’s unhappy,” Cuomo said. “I’ll tell you where it is now, the police are unhappy, the community is unhappy, the activists are unhappy, and all New Yorkers are unhappy because crime is going through the roof. And the black community and the poor community and the brown community, which feels the most disrespected, is fear, is paying the highest price because they’re the victims of more crime. And I think the city council, at least they’re moving.”

James, a Democrat, was tasked by Cuomo with investigating whether NYPD officers used excessive force to quell unrest last spring and enforce Mayor Bill de Blasio’s nightly curfew. She issued a preliminary report in July that cited a “clear breakdown of trust between police and the public.”

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The lawsuit filed in federal court on Jan. 14 named the city, de Blasio, police Commissioner Dermot Shea and Chief of Department Terence Monahan as defendants. James criticized de Blasio for saying the use of kettling was justified and Shea for saying that the NYPD “had a plan which was executed nearly flawlessly” when officers aggressively cracked down on protesters on June 4 in the Bronx.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.