Chief-Leader
July 15, 2013

 

PBA Pressures Council Members on Profile Bill

Mayor Also Hoping to Swing 1

By Mark Toor

    
The Chief-Leader/Michel Friang  

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Plays ‘pro-crime’ card.

 

As Mayor Bloomberg and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association continued their efforts to pick off City Council supporters of a bill that would outlaw police profiling, one of its sponsors said last week that morale is “really high” among Council Members who voted for it.

“I think we’re fine so far,” Jumaane Williams, one of the main sponsors of the bill, said in an interview. “...Everyone is energized. I think they’re getting more encouraged by the tactics of the unions. It’s working in our favor right now.”

A Precarious Margin

The bill, which would prohibit police profiling on the basis of demographic factors and allow people who feel they were questioned in violation of that ban to sue in state courts, passed the City Council with 34 votes despite the fervent opposition of Mr. Bloomberg, who has promised to veto it.

That is the minimum number of votes needed to override a veto, and the Mayor’s staff said he would use every lever at his command to persuade at least one lawmaker to change his or her vote. The Mayor’s Press Office did not respond to an inquiry about how his effort was proceeding. Mr. Bloomberg has 30 days to veto the bill, which was passed June 27, and observers speculated that he would not do so until he had swayed one or more votes.

Christine Quinn, the Council Speaker who is a leading Democratic candidate to replace Mr. Bloomberg and opposed the bill, told NY1 that she did not believe the efforts to change votes would succeed. “Those numbers don’t change in the override votes,” she said. “People stick with their positions. People know they are voting on a bill that is going to be vetoed and they vote in a way they plan to stick with.”

Mr. Williams noted that he and his co-sponsor, Brad Lander, had introduced the bill after Mr. Bloomberg had rejected requests to meet with lawmakers and community leaders concerned that the NYPD’s implementation of its stop-and-frisk program was overly aggressive. “Had they really sat down and acknowledged the problem, we wouldn’t have gotten so far” with the bill, he said.

PBA Turns Up Heat

The PBA, which has distributed leaflets in the districts of three Council Members who voted in favor of the bill, stepped up its efforts to deter lawmakers from voting to override a veto. The union announced that it was urging its members “to patrol their beats with an eye toward protecting themselves from civil lawsuits” if the profiling bill becomes law.

“All officers should take action if he or she sees a crime in progress, or if he or she sees that his or her life or the life of another person is in danger,” the PBA advised its members. “Otherwise, concerning events not occurring in the officer’s presence, all officers should be careful not to initiate any law-enforcement action that could be construed as violating the new legislation and subject the officer to legal action.”

The police unions have expressed concerns that officers hauled into court by people who feel they were mistreated could be responsible for legal fees. The bill prohibits litigants from seeking monetary damages but allows a judge to award legal fees to people who bring suit successfully.

The city generally indemnifies its employees in lawsuits, meaning it pays their legal fees and any damages assessed. But the city Law Department has recently declined to extend this protection to a handful of officers who it determined had violated department rules, meaning they would be on the hook for all costs.

Target 3 in Council

The PBA has targeted Manhattan Council Members Jessica Lappin and Daniel Garodnick, and Mark Weprin of Queens. The union distributed fliers at transit stations in their districts, and last week mailed 90,000 more to their constituents asking, “Is your City Council Member pro-crime?”

“The PBA believes they represent districts that are pro-law-enforcement and pro-public safety,” spokesman Al O’Leary said. “Those three districts are very conservative communities.” Mr. Garodnick and Mr. Weprin are running for re-election and Ms. Lappin for Manhattan Borough President.

“We are reaching out to constituents to encourage them to voice their concerns about these bills and to persuade their Council Member to defeat them when the override vote is taken,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. If the veto is overridden, he continued, his union will “target all pro-crime Council Members for defeat in the upcoming election,”

Two of the three Council Members said they would not be deterred. “I’m proud to have voted for these two bills, which will put some muscle into Police Department oversight and help rein in constitutionally questionable stop-and-frisks,” Ms. Lappin told the New York Post. “If the PBA thinks this kind of bullying works with me, they picked the wrong legislator.”

Weprin: Not Changing

“I’m not changing my vote,” Mr. Weprin told the Epoch Times. He told the Daily News that the profiling bill, and a companion bill that creates an independent Inspector General for the NYPD, will make the city safer. “The bills do not end stop-and-frisk,” he said. “They merely say you have to have cause to stop and frisk someone.”

PBA officials said they were waiting to see what effect the campaign had before deciding whether to extend it to other Council Members.

The PBA hand-delivered to all Council Members a letter accompanied by a copy of a CHIEF-LEADER interview with James A. Cohen, an Associate Professor at the Fordham University School of Law who is independent of the debate, about whether the bill would discourage police officers from performing their duties. He said he believed it would have that effect.

Mr. Bloomberg maintains that the law would prohibit officers from using demographic descriptions when seeking criminals (for example, a white man about 30 years old wearing a red sweater and using a cane would have to be broadcast as an individual wearing a red sweater).

Mr. Williams and other supporters of the bill say that’s simply not the case. The Councilman said opponents were “making up” falsehoods about the bill. He renewed his offer to withdraw his support from the bill if anyone could point out to him the specific language that would prohibit descriptions including race or ethnicity. The Mayor has refused to respond to the proposal.

‘Makes Cops’ Jobs Harder’

Mr. Cohen came down squarely on the side of Mr. Bloomberg. Mr. Lynch wrote that he called the bill “ ‘absurd,’ noting that it ‘eliminates the use of reasonable discretion in the exercise of the [police] function...It makes it very hard for the police officer to do the job.’’’

Mr. Cohen was also sympathetic to concerns of police unions about police officers having to pay legal fees. “This possibility, he said, ‘could be a big hit in incentivizing a group of lawyers who now have no monetary incentive to bring stop-and-frisk cases,’” the union noted he told this newspaper.

Responding to Mr. Williams’s recent statement that revisions to the bill were made with PBA input, Mr. Lynch says in the letter, “Contrary to the assertions of some of the bill’s supporters, the PBA has been consistently and unequivocally opposed to the bill in any form.”