Tuesday was NYPD Inspector General Phillip Eure’s first day on the job; it was also the first day that the job existed at all. The office was created (and vested with a $5 million budget) by the City Council over the veto of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year, and Eure, who previously headed up Washington D.C.’s office of police complaints, was appointed by the Department of Investigation on March 28.
In a statement shortly after the announcement, Mayor Bill de Blasio called independent police review “a critical component” for improving public safety and the NYPD’s relationship with the community.
Communities United for Police Reform cheered Eure’s appointment too. In a March statement, the group reiterated its hope that the new IG would not only work to ensure the end of stop-and-frisk abuses, but “review the disparate impact of the NYPD’s enforcement of minor offenses on low-income communities of color; the disturbing patterns related to police brutality and killings of unarmed New Yorkers and those with psychiatric disabilities; the surveillance of Muslim communities and political group; and basic transparency by the department.” That’s a lot to do! So, how’s Eure doing so far?
Well, on Tuesday afternoon, Robert Jereski of the activist group Friends of Brad Will filed the first complaint with the office. The group was created in 2006 after Will, a journalist, was murdered in Mexico. Their aim was to spread awareness about human rights abuses resulting from of the war on drugs. Members of the group long believed their organization had been infiltrated by members of the NYPD. They found proof to that effect in 2012 when the Associated Press revealed a memo proving the NYPD had dispatched an undercover officer to surveil the group at a 2008 conference.
The group had previously filed Freedom of Information Act requests for access to information in the NYPD’s files on Friends of Brad Will, but their request was denied. On Tuesday, Matt Metzgar, an activist whose efforts to remove from his East Village home an undercover officer during a 1997 political benefit are documented in the complaint, told the Voice the AP leak was proof “I’m not paranoid.”
Now Metzgar, Jereski and others are demanding further information on the NYPD’s surveillance from Eure. Tuesday’s complaint is wide-ranging. At least four groups — Friends of Brad Will, Time’s Up!, Reclaim the Streets, and so-called “Housing and Garden Activists” — are mentioned as having been the targets of illegal NYPD monitoring as far as 1997. Among other things, the activists asked for a full audit of NYPD programs that have targeted political activists, and a full investigation of the department’s Intelligence Division.
On Tuesday, when Jereski, Metzgar and Friends of Brad Will spokesman Harry Bubbins arrived at the Department of Investigation’s Lower Manhattan office to hand deliver their complaint it felt… slightly anticlimactic. Eure did not come down from his new office, two floors above, to meet his first complainants face to face. Instead, their complaint was accepted by Pamela Woolbright, the Department of Investigation’s director of complaints, who dutifully copied down Jereski’s number and told him Eure would be in touch within two to three days.
Bubbins was mildly disappointed by his first interaction with the inspector general’s office. “I would think that police misconduct is a little different than a broken swing in a city park,” he said on Tuesday.
On Friday, Jereski had still not heard from anyone at the Inspector Generals’ office.
Jereski is now asking other activists and supporters to send letters urging de Blasio to take the complaint and its recommendations seriously.