Blue in the Face

One guiding principle for my thoughts on policing was provided by Nelson Mandela, who wrote that (I am paraphrasing) it is never enough to complain about injustice, rather it is incumbent upon people, black people, that is, to envision and create the structures for a just society. This axiom comes with a duty, to educate yourself as to all aspects of the problem you wish to solve, and it is this corollary that came to mind last week when I read of the latest follies from the City Council.

“House parties and other activities that disrupt the peace with unreasonable or excessive noise are in violation of the law and warrant immediate noise abatement,” wrote 23 members of the Council, to the one man who had no need of such information, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. The letter stumbled on: the department’s recent directive barring officers from entering a residence in response to noise complaints “will have a chilling impact on the NYPD’s efforts to preserve quality of life for countless New Yorkers,” wrote the members, revealing an ignorance of both the US Constitution and how the department operates.

The Council members’ lack of awareness that the 4th Amendment to the Constitution bars police entry to a residence, solely in response to a noise complaint, is inexcusable, but unsurprising. That Donovan Richards, the black Council member from southern Queens who was a signatory to the letter, is seemingly unaware of the $15 million judgment against the NYPD for responding to a noise complaint by invading a residence located in the Council member’s district, such judgment being the proximate cause of the noise directive, is both surprising and inexcusable.

More distressingly, the Council members seem not to have noticed that the NYPD “clarified” the noise directive a week after it was issued, saying officers could enter a residence in response to a noise complaint in order to determine if there is underage drinking or overcrowding; that is, the department restored the discretion officers have to enter a residence to the level it was before the directive was issued.

I previously have noted the Council’s willingness to trip over itself in its rush to respond to something its members have read in the paper, which can be amusing, until it’s not; that the city’s law-making body, responsible for oversight of the NYPD, is routinely slack in its duties, is no laughing matter.

The Mayor, top NYPD officials and leaders of the various police unions constantly refer to the Council’s inadequacies (here, here and here, for starters), disparaging its ability to serve as a check on the department’s otherwise unaccountable degree of power. Perhaps, we, as voters should join them in their complaints; it seems little to ask of our elected officials, that they know what they are talking about before they open their mouths.