Mark-Viverito mum about why she formed public commission to close Rikers, but not to probe NYPD


When New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) envisioned the closure of Rikers Island, she announced during her 2016 State of the City speech the formation of a public commission that would propose reforms that would lead to a shrinkage in the population of Rikers Island, in order to eventually lead to its closure. Council Speaker Mark-Viverito appointed the chair of the commission, retired New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. One month later, the Ret. Hon. Judge Lippman announced the other members of his panel, according to a report published by Newsday. Before it issued its report and recommendation, the Rikers Island closure commission held public meetings and took testimony.

The discretionary powers available to Council Speaker Mark-Viverito to form such a public commission are those that activists have been seeking a signficant Government official to exercise in the formation of a public commission dedicated to investigating the New York Police Department. Allegations have been made of widespread misconduct, failures of leadership and accountability, and a pattern of corruption that was exposed, in part, by a recent wide-ranging, Federal investigation of the Government of the City of New York.

The New York City Council press office did not answer a request to explain why, given the demands of minority NYPD police officers and of activists, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito has not excercised her discretionary powers to appoint a public commission to investigate the NYPD.

In July 2016, minority NYPD officers demanded the formation of a public commission, patterned after the Knapp Commission of the 1970's, to publicly investigate allegations of corruption at the NYPD, according to a report published by The New York Daily News. Activists, including the publisher of Progress Queens, made a similar demand in October 2014. In October 2014, activists pointed out that Government officials ranging from Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City), then NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. (D-Manhattan), then U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, and then FBI New York City Field Office Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos, each had discretionary powers to empanel such a public commission. However, none of those officials answered the call.

Besides calling for a renewed fight against corruption within, and improving accountability at, the NYPD, advocates for criminal justice system reform continue to press for an end to the NYPD's Broken Windows approach to policing, according to a report filed by the journalist Theodore Hamm in City Limits. It is not known if, given Council Speaker Mark-Viverito's discretionary powers, she will, in her last year in elected office, appoint a chair to form a public commission to investigate the NYPD to further the work of criminal justice system reform.

Recommended Reading