May 28, 2003
New York City Police Department
Dear Commissioner Kelly,
We write in response to yesterday’s announcement that the Department intends to start collecting certain information about search warrants. According to the press release the Department issued, it intends to “track key aspects of the search warrant process, including the name of the supervising officer, the Judge who issued the warrant, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case, the location, building plans, identified hazards, and the results of the search warrant.” While we think collection of this information is a useful first step, we believe that the Department needs to take further action to address the troubling issues raised by the police actions that led to the death of Alberta Spruill on May 16.
As an initial matter, we think that the information to be collected in the data base -- as described in the Department’s release -- omits two key pieces of information: whether a warrant is a “no-knock” warrant and whether the warrant was obtained using information provided by a “confidential informant.” Because “no knock” warrants may be used only in unusual circumstances and because they pose a greater threat of trauma to the occupants of a home or apartment, we believe it important for the Department to track the use of these warrants. And because reliance on “confidential informants” introduces a significant possibility that warrants will be based on information of questionable reliability, it is particularly important that the Department closely monitor its use of such informants. To the extent that the database being planned by the Department does not include this information, we urge you to add it.
Our second concern is that the Department’s release makes no mention of any systemic effort by the Department to use the information in this database to evaluate and improve search-warrant activity. Though we assume that the Department does intend to use the database in part for these purposes, we believe it essential that the Department publicly disclose how the Department intends to use the information it will collect through the newly announced system, including what reports it intends to provide to the public about its search-warrant activity. The collection of information alone will do little to remedy problems in the Department’s search-warrant activity.
Finally, the release is silent about any ongoing or future evaluation of specific tactics being employed in the execution of search warrants, including the Department’s use of “flash grenades.” We were particularly troubled to learn through press reports that you already have directed resumption of use of these potentially lethal devices without any public disclosure about the results of the investigation you publicly stated would take place into their use. Our concerns on this point are heightened by the fact that we twice have asked the Department to provide us with copies of any formal directives governing the use of flash grenades and have yet to receive anything in response.
We look forward to receiving a response to our concerns and would be happy to meet with appropriate members of your staff about these matters.
Associate Legal Director
c: Hector Gonzalez, Chair, Civilian Complaint Review Board
Stephen Hammerman, NYPD Deputy Commissioner, Legal Matters