but there are times when the topic seems more urgent than ever, as it did yesterday evening, when I found myself gazing at an image of Tom Brokaw wearing a lei, listening to a stream of the new Florence + the Machine album, half-reading an IM about a young comedian, half-reading a text message about oysters, clicking close tab on an article about tax policy and writing the words “Santorum video” in my notebook.
- Little boy: Mom? I really like New York.
- Mom: I know you do, honey. But you have to remember, it's a very expensive place to live.
In light of very recent events, everyone has suddenly noticed that JPMorgan Chase made a $4.6 million donation to the New York City Police Foundation. This Daily Kos headline is typical: “JPMorgan buys NYPD for $4.6 million.”
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that just as people begin to take out their frustrations with Wall Street by turning out on “the Street” themselves, JPM has given the NYPD’s foundation its biggest gift ever. I suppose the skeptic in me would look at this gift with a jaundiced eye.
That skeptic would say that JPM (knew)(feared) believed that a big protest might be coming, and acted accordingly in order to protect its (property) image. […]
I’m not suggesting there’s any connection to the JPM donation (large as it is) and the way the NYPD has acted towards peaceful protesters. I’ll leave it to others to figure out what it means.
The internet is crawling with variations on this post, many of which draw an even more direct connection between the JPM donation and the Brooklyn Bridge arrests last night. In my mind this is the worst sort of political non-argument there is: “Thing A happened, then Thing B happened, and I’m not saying there’s a connection but that’s the chronology, so I’m just going to leave this here, couched in vaguely accusatory language, and walk away indignant.” It’s an excellent technique if you want to fire people up and get reblogged a hundred times, poor if you want meaningful discourse. It is also, incidentally, why Glenn Beck is a millionaire.
For those who have yet to see it, here’s the (undated) JPM release announcing the gift to the New York City Police Foundation:
JPMorgan Chase recently donated an unprecedented $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation. The gift was the largest in the history of the foundation and will enable the New York City Police Department to strengthen security in the Big Apple. The money will pay for 1,000 new patrol car laptops, as well as security monitoring software in the NYPD’s main data center. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly sent CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon a note expressing “profound gratitude” for the company’s donation.
“These officers put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe,” Dimon said. “We’re incredibly proud to help them build this program and let them know how much we value their hard work.”
There wasn’t much outcry four months ago, when the JPM donation was first reported, and if you believe that Jamie “go work for a real bank” Dimon had the foresight, last spring, to anticipate the presence of protesters in New York this fall, you give the man more credit (as it were) than I do. My guess is Dimon has larger quandaries on his mind, like figuring out how to screw millions of consumers instead of hundreds of people on a bridge, or dealing with his WaMu problem, or manipulating executive fears in a strangely-timed succession war.
But even if Dimon did have an inkling that friends in blue would come in handy during this particular protest, what exactly is the NYPD data center that benefits from his bank’s gift? Per the city comptroller:
The Management Information Systems Division (MISD) is responsible for the data center computer operations that provide information to the entire NYPD. The data center provides data-processing operations for the NYPD Local Area Networks (LAN) and mainframe computers. The data center also maintains and supports more than 35 computer applications. MISD is responsible for implementing and periodically testing the disaster-recovery plan of the data center.
It seems like the phrase ‘security monitoring software’ is setting off alarms in some quarters, but without further information we don’t know if it means ‘software that monitors “security threats” ie. people holding signs on the street’ or if it means ‘software that monitors the security of the data in the data center itself.’ It would be interesting to know which, if anyone feels like placing a call to the NYPD MISD.
As for the data center itself, it was last audited in 2006 (.pdf warning). The audit found that:
NYPD has adequate physical security controls that allow only authorized MISD staff members and other approved NYPD personnel access to the data center. MISD also monitors data-center activities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as required. NYPD has system security policies and procedures in place. In addition, it has a formalized disaster recovery plan, and this plan is periodically tested. NYPD has also hired an outside vendor to provide an alternate processing site and disaster-recovery services in the event of an operational disaster at or affecting the data center.
However, there are four control weaknesses that should be addressed. Specifically, some inactive user accounts have not been disabled or deleted; the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) lasts only 12 minutes, which may not be a sufficient amount of time for the backup generators to be turned on in the event of a disaster; backup tapes, while stored off-site, are not properly secured in a restricted access area of the premises; and the Department of Investigation (DOI) has not reviewed or approved the NYPD Internet plan, as required.
So we have a couple of possibilities. Maybe an additional need for ‘security monitoring software’ was identified in the years since this audit. Then again, maybe not! As for the patrol laptops, you could argue that improved communications systems enable officers to orchestrate mass arrests more quickly. That’s probably true. But they also help save officers’ lives and reduce the risk of administrative errors, and I hope we can agree that those are good things. I suppose there is the possibility that the JPM money did not, in fact, go to laptops and security software, but to something more nefarious from a civil-liberties perspective. It does appear that the MISD is not audited as frequently as it could be given the speed at which technology changes, and despite cuts the NYPD still has a multi-billion-dollar budget in which $4.6 million might be redirected with some creative accounting, but there is no evidence that this has happened, and it’s worth remembering that the recent budget cuts have placed every city agency’s spending under public and internal scrutiny.
Let me be clear. JPMorgan’s hands are dirty. The most recent audit of the NYPD data systems did not indicate an immediate need for laptops or security monitoring software (however that’s defined), yet that’s what JPM’s gift was reported to be for. That’s still not evidence of any connection whatsoever between the bank’s $4.6 million and the police response to Occupy Wall Street, and to suggest otherwise is to engage in speculation that distracts from the very real problems at hand. Given all we know of New York and its police department, it seems likely that the city’s bureaucratic processes for identifying, reporting and funding police technology needs are a mess, and that the NYPD would have responded to Occupy Wall Street exactly as poorly as they did regardless of who gave them money and when. Doesn’t that anger you more than an unproven meme? It should.
One last thing: I’ve always kept two checking accounts, one at my hometown bank and one at a major national bank for ease of deposits and free ATM access. Next week I’m going to start moving my money from Bank of America to USAA, unless I can find a regional bank that accepts check deposits by mail. (I haven’t found a convenient credit union for which I qualify.) I suggest you do something similar, if you haven’t already.