City voters overwhelmingly support a plan to put the New York Police Department under the scrutiny of an outside watchdog, even though they give police good marks overall, according to a poll released Thursday.
Two-thirds of respondents favored the proposal for an NYPD inspector general, while a quarter opposed it in the Quinnipiac University poll. It comes as lawmakers hone the plan for what's expected to be a "yes" vote.
The measure would create a monitor to look at the procedures and policies of the nation's biggest police department. While the legislation is still being drafted, plans so far have envisioned giving the inspector general the power to subpoena documents and witnesses.
Civil rights and minority advocates applaud the plan, spurred by concerns about the department's widespread use of the practice known as stop and frisk and its systematic surveillance of Muslims, as revealed in a series of stories by The Associated Press. The poll shows particularly strong support for the idea among black and Hispanic voters, though a majority of white voters back it as well.
Police officials and Mayor Michael Bloomberg say the force already gets enough oversight from various agencies, internal investigators and court guidelines, though none have the policy-scrutinizing mandate that the inspector general would. The mayor says the monitor could end up interfering with a police department that has worked to drive crime rates down to record lows.
"This is a dumb idea ... and it's dangerous. We're playing with people's lives," he said after an unrelated news conference Thursday.
Bloomberg has said he'll veto the proposal if it passes the City Council. Speaker Christine Quinn has said lawmakers will override a veto if he does.
Communities United for Police Reform, a group pushing the inspector general plan, said in a statement that the poll showed "New Yorkers overwhelmingly do not believe Mayor Bloomberg's empty rhetoric that improving oversight of the NYPD will make the city less safe."
While voters like the inspector general idea and disapprove of stop and frisk by a margin of 51 to 43%, they have positive views overall of the department and its leader, according to the poll. Some 60% approve of how police are doing their jobs, and 65% like how Commissioner Ray Kelly is doing his, the poll showed.
City police stop, question and sometimes pat down hundreds of thousands of people per year who are seen as acting suspiciously but don't necessarily meet the legal bar for arrest. The practice has spurred protests, an ongoing federal lawsuit and City Council proposals to set new rules for the stops. Bloomberg and Kelly say stop and frisk is a valuable and legitimate part of the city's crime-fighting strategy.
The Quinnipiac poll questioned 1,417 New York City voters April 3 to 8. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%age points.
Quinnipiac poll: http://bit.ly/VLZ80g