NEW YORK—In continuing efforts to reform the controversial process of stop, question, and frisk by the New York Police Department (NYPD), the City Council introduced four bills during a Committee on Public Safety hearing Wednesday.
Tensions ran high at times, during discussion of amending local laws about how police officers search, question, and identify themselves to potential suspects, as well as during discussion about creating an office of the inspector general for the NYPD.
The City Council chambers were packed with council members, activists, and press, but one key player was missing—the NYPD.
“Let me express my dismay that there will be no representation from the NYPD at today’s hearing,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams, an outspoken critic of stop and frisk and a co-sponsor of the bills. “New Yorkers want us to work together on these issues. Being absent is the opposite of leadership.”
Michael Best, counselor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, testified on behalf of the city, in a 2.5 hour grilling by the council members present, with many council members often “agreeing to disagree” with Best’s assessment of the proposed legislation.
Speaker Christine Quinn said she supports stop and frisk as “a tool in the tool box of police officers,” but believes the targeting of certain races and parts of the city are not right.
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“Although we have made progress in the areas of reform, clearly our work is not done and more reform from a legislative framework is needed,” Quinn said.
Intro 799–Consent to Search
Intro 799, sponsored by 26 council members, would require law enforcement officers to provide notice and obtain written or recorded verbal consent to search individuals, as well as inform individuals of their right not to consent when there is no legal basis for a search.
The complaint among opponents of stop and frisk is many citizens are searched without reason. The NYPD Patrol Guide requires a reasonable suspicion, and this law would require officers to state the suspicion before a search.
Best said the law would conflict with New York State Criminal Procedure Law and would also open a loophole for case dismissals, based on not having recorded consent.
Intro 800–Bias Profiling
Intro 800, sponsored by 29 council members, would prohibit bias-based profiling by law enforcement officers, expanding the bias from race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin, to age, sex, gender, immigration status, language, and disability.
Best argued the language in the bill would prohibit the NYPD from using a perpetrator description given by a victim.
The bill would also allow individuals and groups to sue the city if officers violated the law, and also require the city to pay for the court costs, he said.
“The amount of money that bill would cost in just defending it would be tremendous,” Best said.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who chairs the Public Safety Committee, was an outspoken critic of this bill.
“It will blow a massive hole in the city budget and end NYPD policing as we know it, by taking control of the NYPD from Ray Kelly and giving it to judges,” Vallone Jr. said.
Intro 801–NYPD Identification
Intro 801, sponsored by 27 council members, would require law enforcement officers to identify themselves to the public with their name, rank, and a reason for the stop, as well as provide a business card with their name and the contact information for the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
Best said, as with Intro 799 and 800, this measure was pre-empted by the state Criminal Procedure Law.
Many council members disagreed with Best, saying if that was true, then the bias law of 2004 would not have been passed.
“[Bloomberg’s counsel’s] argument would mean we can’t pass any laws at all, because they all do something to someone. That is just ridiculous,” Williams said.
Intro 881–NYPD Inspector General
Intro 801, sponsored by 30 council members, would establish an office of the inspector general for the NYPD.
Best said an inspector general is not needed, because the oversight provided by the Internal Affairs Bureau, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption was sufficient.
Council members argued if those agencies were enough, there would not be so many reports of abuse of the stop-and-frisk policy.
Wednesday’s hearing is the first step for the proposed laws and no timetable for passage of the bills has been given. The city and the City Council appear far apart on the proposed legislation, and public outcry for reform remains strong.
“Stop and Frisk has to be monitored closely, it has to be done civilly, and done with respect to civil rights,” Vallone Jr. said, adding, “but [stop and frisk] has to be done.”
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