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NYCLU Offers Qualified Support For NYPD Spruill Report But Calls For More Fundamental Reforms Of Search-Warrant Practices

The NYCLU commends the NYPD for its prompt and candid report concerning the police raid that led to the death of Harlem resident Alberta Spruill on May 16. Additional steps, however, must be taken to address the problems that led to Ms Spruill’s death.

While focusing heavily on Police Department procedures, the NYPD report fails to allay concerns about the extent to which the Department is relying upon confidential informants and “no knock” warrants. The report’s disclosure that the confidential informant in this case had been arrested 12 times and had never before supplied reliable information and its disclosure that the Department did virtually nothing to corroborate the information the informant provided suggests a dangerous reliance on informants. The report, however, offers little in the way of concrete proposals to address this problem.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “Relying on confidential informants, who often are in trouble with the law, is inherently risky. The Department must become much more vigilant about assuring that it has reliable information, particularly before it bursts into people’s homes and detonates stun grenades.”

The NYCLU also called on the Police Department to create a special unit to review all cases in which search warrants prove flawed either because the information was inaccurate or the warrant was executed at the wrong address. NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said, “If the Department really wants to reduce search warrant problems, it must dedicate itself to scrutinizing every instance in which warrants prove flawed.”

Finally, the NYCLU observed that the Police Department alone is not to blame for search warrant problems. The NYCLU is concerned that judges may be too willing to issue “no knock” warrants based on information from confidential informants. “Because the courts have an obligation to be extremely careful when issuing ‘no knock’ warrants based on testimony from confidential informants, the court system must assess the training of judges in the handling of warrant applications, ” said Donna Lieberman.

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