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New York Daily News: Justice Dept. refers request to investigate NYPD to civil rights division

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is considering a request to investigate whether the NYPD’s controversial “broken windows” crime-fighting strategy violates the civil rights of black and Hispanic New Yorkers, the Daily News has learned.

Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik said the matter had been referred to the division in a Sept. 24 letter to six members of Congress who requested the investigation, citing a News analysis that found blacks and Hispanics receive a vastly disproportionate amount of summonses for quality of life violations.

“When a systemic pattern or practice of misconduct is determined to exist, we have the authority to initiate civil action against state or local officials to remedy the misconduct,” wrote Kadzik.

He also said the DOJ “is closely monitoring the local investigation into Eric Garner,” the Staten Island dad who was killed by an apparent police chokehold during his arrest over allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. A grand jury began hearing evidence in the case late last month to determine whether there should be criminal charges.

“It’s now our job to convince the Department of Justice that the evidence exists to open a pattern and practice investigation,” said Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. “The police department in New York City is out of control right now. It seems as though every day a new video surfaces of an officer brutalizing someone in the black and Latino community.”

Jeffries said he and the other members of congress are in the process of gathering evidence to present to the Civil Rights Division, which they hope to do this year.

Jeffries said The News’ report on summons activity – which found blacks and Hispanics received a disproportionate share of summonses, with a spread of 20 percentage points or greater than their share of the population, in 32 of the city’s 75 police precincts – “will be central to the case that I believe exists for racially disparate treatment.”

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has already signaled that the NYPD is taking steps toward significant reform in the wake of outcry triggered over Garner’s death. He has promised to retrain every officer on the force, embraced a pilot program to equip some officers with body cameras, and said the department is conducting internal reviews of stop-and-frisk and summons activity.

Last week, Bratton declared war on dirty cops, telling police brass the NYPD “will aggressively seek to get those out of the department who should not be here – the brutal, the corrupt, the racist, the incompetent.”

“Words are nice, retraining could be helpful,” said Jeffries. “But what we really need are strict disciplinary actions and prosecutions. Period. That is the only thing that will ultimately change a culture of brutality that has infected the police department.”

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.