The NYPD pulled out at the last minute from a City Council hearing set for Tuesday on whether its increased deployment of high-technology surveillance has a disparate impact on Black and Hispanic New Yorkers — the third time the police department has dodged questioning by elected officials on the subject in the last five weeks.
The sudden reversal came after the department had picked Oct. 31 as the date when its top uniformed officer, Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, would appear before a joint hearing held by the Council’s Public Safety and Technology committees.
The committees have been trying for weeks to question the department about its failure to meet requirements under the POST Act, a law enacted in 2020 that requires disclosure of how the NYPD is using technology.
Mayor Eric Adams has embraced the use of high-tech in fighting crime, including using aerial drones to monitor public gatherings and deploying a robot to surveil high-volume subway stations in Manhattan. Facial recognition, cell phone tower pings and license plate readers are all known to be among the technologies in routine use.
Twice before, the NYPD bowed out of POST Act hearings — once on Sept. 27, then again on Oct. 11 — citing other commitments.
Shortly after 2 p.m. Monday, the office of Council Speaker Adrienne Adams issued a notification that the hearing was set to take place in the Council Chambers at 10 a.m. Tuesday, listing Maddrey as a witness. An hour later, the NYPD informed the Council it would not be participating in the hearing. It is now “deferred until further notice.”
“My first reaction was ‘WTF?’,” said Councilmember Jennifer Gutierrez (D-Brooklyn), chair of the technology committee. “I put it in the bigger context of them not showing up to other hearings. The more New Yorkers feel they’re hiding something or they’re avoiding something, we’re going to work really hard to find out what’s going on.”
Gutierrez said the NYPD officials told the Council that they had to drop out of the Oct. 11 hearing to respond to protests that erupted across the city following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by the terrorist group Hamas that killed 1,400 Israelis. They used the same excuse Monday to drop out again, even though the department had agreed to the Oct. 31 date two weeks ago.
Asked about the NYPD’s pulling out of three scheduled hearings on the POST Act, the department’s press office defended the decision, writing, “There is nothing wrong with the NYPD requesting that the Council adjust the timing of a hearing.
“The NYPD understands and acknowledges the importance of its obligations under the POST Act, including participating in the anticipated City Council hearing. Due to scheduling demands involving the coordination of day-to-day operations of the NYPD, and taking special consideration of today’s Halloween Parade and the recent series of major protests necessitating increased Department resources, the NYPD requested that today’s hearing be rescheduled. The City Council ultimately decides when to hold hearings, and the Department will appear at any scheduled hearing. “
Albert Fox Cahn, director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), called the latest snub of public oversight by the NYPD “outrageous,” arguing that it underscored the need for the department to respond to the Council’s questioning.
“To have a hearing on the NYPD’s failure to comply with civilian oversight because the department simply won’t show up shows more about the department’s lawlessness more than anything a hearing could show,” he said. “This is a police department that’s putting itself above the law and refusing to hold itself accountable to elected officials.”
Cahn, who was scheduled to testify at the hearing, pointed out STOP’s pending lawsuit against the NYPD demanding a response to thousands of pending Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.
STOP contends the department has delayed responding to 42,000 such requests, and is suing to force immediate disclosure. The NYPD now routinely informs FOIL requesters, including THE CITY, that it will be six months before they receive any response from the agency “due to the volume of requests that we have received.”
State law requires agencies to provide records within 20 business days after acknowledging a records request and to provide both a specific date by which the request will be fulfilled as well as a reason for the delay.
Jocelyn Strauber, commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI), was also scheduled to testify at Tuesday’s hearing about a November 2022 inspector general report detailing the department’s response to the POST Act.
In it, DOI made 15 recommendations, all of which remained unimplemented as of June. Fourteen were rejected by the department outright, while one was listed as “pending.” NYPD, for instance, rejected DOI’s suggestion that it regularly audit the use of facial recognition technology, and it nixed the call to analyze whether its use of surveillance technology has a disparate impact that is racially biased.
Last week the department suffered a setback in its refusal to disclose the contract records related to its purchase of more than $1 billion in high-tech surveillance technology over the last several years.
The POST Act triggered the release of some but not all of the records. The Legal Aid Society sued for the information and on Thursday Manhattan Supreme Court Lyle Frank ordered the department to release everything requested as soon as possible.
As of Tuesday, the NYPD had not responded to THE CITY’s inquiry from Friday as to whether it intends to appeal the judge’s ruling.