The “why” of the Paterson administration’s possible improper use of State Police remains a real head-scratcher, particularly on the heels of what seemed, so recently, to be an impressionable event –- Spitzer’s resignation on the heels of an investigation for improperly using the State Police.
One clear thing is that, if the governor had a hands-on role in the misuse of state police in this matter or in covering it up, it is an impeachable offense. Just take a look at the articles of impeachment filed against President Nixon before he fled office. But even if the Governor did not have any direct involvement in this matter or make any attempt to cover it up, it is up to him, as it was with Spitzer, to make certain that no member of his staff thinks that the state police are there to serve any of their political or personal needs. For that failure he is already paying a political price.
On Monday, news outlets reported that several pieces of legislation have been introduced to address this issue. One proposal that seems unnecessary (and is probably just political) creates a special commission “to investigate systemic misconduct, abuse of power and political interference” relating to the state police. The legislature has the power to conduct such an inquiry itself, and it should. Such oversight is their constitutional right and duty. And the improper use of state police by two successive governors should certainly signal that something is wrong.
In 1975 the Assembly conducted just such an investigation. Reports that the state police had collected “non criminal” (their words) files on hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and others over many years resulted in the creation of a Task Force under the Government Operations Committee. In 1977 it issued its report. Among the Task Force’s most important findings was that police indiscretions largely resulted from “a lack of clear guidance from the Governor and the Legislature on what were proper intelligence activities.” One of its key recommendations was for “Legislation to provide for oversight and greater accountability is needed.” Another recommendation was ongoing oversight of the police.
Of course, no one followed any of them.