Prosecutor Who Investigated Police Corruption Will Lead N.Y.P.D. Watchdog
A veteran city prosecutor who investigated police corruption over a three-decade career will become the next inspector general for the New York City Police Department, taking on a crucial oversight role under a mayor who has made aggressive policing a priority.
Charles M. Guria, 61, a senior trial assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, will step into the role on Sept. 12, according to an announcement on Thursday by the Department of Investigation, the parent agency of the inspector general’s office.
He will take the helm of a small office that in recent years has struggled to fulfill its mandate in the face of police resistance to outside oversight, a problem critics say has been exacerbated by former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s unwillingness to challenge the police. The office has not produced an investigative report since 2019.
The position had been vacant during the first seven months of Mayor Eric Adams’s administration, as the mayor focused on bolstering police efforts to bring down rising crime, a central promise of his campaign.
Mr. Guria spent 20 years in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office supervising investigations of police corruption and abuse. He was also a lawyer on the Mollen Commission, whose landmark report on the nature and extent of corruption in the Police Department in the 1990s led to changes in recruitment and discipline. The report became a model for law enforcement agencies across the country.
More recently, Mr. Guria was part of a group that spent three years retraining the city’s 36,000 police officers on how to use stop-and-frisk tactics after a federal judge found that the city’s use of those tactics was racially discriminatory and unconstitutional in 2013.
Jocelyn E. Strauber, the Department of Investigation commissioner, said in an interview over Zoom that Mr. Guria’s experience working opposite and alongside law enforcement was ideal for the position.
“Having both worked with law enforcement in partnership as all prosecutors do, and also having had the experience of overseeing misconduct on the part of law enforcement, was in a sense the perfect balance, because we want to be objective, rigorous, critical where necessary,” she said.
Mr. Guria, in the same interview, said he was excited to take on a role that would allow him to use his experience on a broader scale. He credited his father, a former transit police officer, for inspiring him to become a police watchdog.
When he started his legal career as a public defender, Mr. Guria said, his father read the police reports he was reviewing, told him whether he thought the officers involved had acted appropriately and fed him questions to ask officers on the witness stand. During the Mollen Commission investigation, his father sat in the second row during public hearings.
“He had gone through the Knapp Commission as a police officer,” Mr. Guria said, referring to an earlier panel that found that a majority of police officers had engaged in corrupt activities. “And he felt that often, the N.Y.P.D. did not address issues, and sometimes it took outside pressure to make those things happen.”
“In the family that I came out of, everything was about making sure things work properly and not just following a tradition,” he said.
The office he will soon lead was created after the court ruling on stop and frisk to audit police policies. It has a team of 18 investigators, policy analysts and lawyers who are responsible for providing recommendations to improve policing in the city. The Police Department is required by law to respond to its reports.
Several of the watchdog’s reports led to legislative reforms and changes in how the police carry out their duties. But its momentum has stalled in recent years.
Former officials in the Department of Investigation blamed the slowdown on obstruction by the Police Department, which refused to produce witnesses and records, and a lack of support from Mr. de Blasio, who did not intervene.
Ms. Strauber acknowledged that problems with access had contributed to the lack of output from the inspector general’s office, along with bureaucratic inefficiency.
But she said she was hopeful that access to the Police Department’s personnel and records would not now be a problem, as she had established a line of communication with Ernest F. Hart, the police official in charge of the department’s legal affairs.
This year, Ms. Strauber said, the inspector general’s office plans to release a long-delayed report on the Police Department’s often-criticized gang database, as well as an overdue report on the department’s compliance with the POST Act, a city law governing police use of surveillance technology. A third report, on the police use of parking placards, will be released late this year or early in 2023, she said.
Corey Stoughton, who is in charge of special litigation at the Legal Aid Society, said the inspector general’s failure to produce reports from its work over the last few years had weakened public faith in the office.
She criticized what she said was a practice of opening investigations with great fanfare but without public follow-up.
In previous years, the inspector general’s office produced a series of influential reports. Its 2018 investigation of the Police Department’s response to reports of sexual assault galvanized activists who recently persuaded the Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation.
A separate report, which found that the police had failed to substantiate any of nearly 2,500 bias complaints, led the city to expand the authority of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate complaints of biased policing.
Before Mr. Guria’s appointment, the Department of Investigation said it had cut the inspector general’s salary to better align it with those of other inspectors general in the agency. Mr. Guria’s starting salary will be $170,000, a sum that is $23,788 less than the starting salary of his predecessor, Philip K. Eure, who led the office from its creation until the end of last year, a spokeswoman said.
Christopher Dunn, the legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said Mr. Guria seemed to be a good fit for inspector general. “But at the end of the day, we need a mayor and a City Council that are prepared to make fundamental changes to the Police Department,” he said. ”