Stop-and-Frisk Reform Takes Circumventing Route

By Kristen Meriwether
Kristen Meriwether
Kristen Meriwether
June 25, 2013 Updated: June 25, 2013

NEW YORK—Stop-and-frisk has been a point of contention among minority groups in New York City for much of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term, with the number of stops escalating to a high of 610,000 in 2010. Now that tension is spreading, creating rifts among Council members over procedure, and widening the gap between Bloomberg and City Council.

Two bills in City Council aimed at reforming the police practice will be voted on later this week, but the political costs have been high. Intro 1079 proposes introducing an inspector general for the NYPD, and Intro 1080 expands an existing anti biased-based profiling measure.

The bills were originally part of the Community Safety Act, which was introduced in the Council in October 2012 to reform stop and frisk. They have sat dormant because Chairman Peter Vallone Jr. refused to bring them to a vote.

For the first time in City Council history, the 51-member body voted to discharge legislation from a committee without a vote with 41 in favor and eight opposed (and two absent) for each bill.

“I have the dubious distinction of being the only chair in the history of the City Council to be gone around,” Vallone said with a chuckle from City Hall on Monday. “Normally it would be a bad thing, but I consider this a badge of honor.”

Vallone, who wrote an anti-racial profiling bill in 2004, said he had concerns over the language in the bill, which would allow lawsuits against the city if they felt they had been stopped based on race. “It would blow a massive hole in the city budget,” Vallone said.

During the vote to discharge, the focus became less about the merit of the bills, and more about the manner in which the bills had been brought to the floor.

“I think this is a sad day. I think we are undercutting the institution of the Speaker, which means we are undercutting the institution itself,” said Council member Jimmy Oddo, who is the minority leader in the Council and one of only four Republicans. “We have 51 members. It is the most diverse legislature in the country, if not the world. 51 egos. 51 agendas. 51 perspectives. If you don’t have a central figure to try and keep us going in one direction, how on God’s Earth can we be in check to the executive?”

Speaker Quinn, who has come out in support of the inspector general bill, but against the racial profiling bill, voted in favor of discharging both bills.

Eric Ulrich of Queens expressed his dismay at the process, calling it silly. “Why have debate if you are just going to put it on the floor?” Ulrich asked.

“Now the budget is passed, people feel they can do whatever they want and introduce bills, and discharge bills, no matter how ridiculous they are,” Ulrich said, clarifying he thought the two bills were very serious, but the processes was not right.

Council member Oliver Koppell commented that the process was exactly the type of incident the reforms made in 2006 were aiming to fix—allowing a vote on heavily supported bills. Intro 1080 has 34 sponsors, as well as Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Intro 1079 has 35 sponsors and the Public Advocate.

Bloomberg has adamantly opposed both bills, citing record low crime as a sign stop-and-frisk is working.

“New Yorkers must have policing that respects everyone’s rights—including everyone’s right to be safe on the streets,” Bloomberg said at a press conference at One Police Plaza on Monday. “What we mustn’t have is what these laws would create: A police department pointlessly hampered by outside intrusion, and recklessly threatened by second-guessing from the courts.

Seeking Change

Communities that have been targeted by stop-and-frisk don’t care how the bills pass, or even who supports them. They just want change.

If approved, the inspector general bill would, for the first time in New York City history, create oversight for the NYPD. The FBI, CIA, and even the LAPD, which struggled with police relations during the 1980’s and 1990’s, have inspector generals.

The oversight would be a stepping stone in building trust between communities and the police tasked with keeping them safe.

“Those people are resentful and they doubt the integrity of the department,” said Dr. Delores Jones Brown, director of the John Jay College Center on Race, Crime, and Justice. Jones added the distrust was not just on the streets, but among officers, adding the inspector general would allow for another layer of protection to push back against policies deemed not morally right.

“What creates a great deal of distrust in the community is the feeling that there is no recourse when you are stopped unjustly or brutalized,” said Khary Lazarre-White, co-founder of Brotherhood Sister Sol, a Harlem-based group empowering minority youth through after-school programs, mentoring, and job training. “An independent inspector would allow faith to build up in the public because there is recourse. If there is no recourse, there is anger in every type of police in every situation.”

With over 30 sponsors, the bills are expected to pass the City Council this week, after which the mayor is expected to veto within 30 days. The Council will need 34 votes to override the veto, meaning if all the sponsors continue to support it, it will go into law.

If passed, the biased-based profiling law would not take effect until late fall (90 days after enacted), and the inspector general bill would not take effect until January 1, 2014.

Additional reporting by Joshua Philipp

Kristen Meriwether