July 22, 2013


Police Unions Intensify Push Against Profiling Bill As Bad for Cops

Supporters Decry Bloomberg Efforts to Sway Council So Veto Will Stand

By Mark Toor

Police unions and supporters of a bill that would outlaw demographic profiling by officers continued their battle last week for the hearts and minds of New Yorkers—and at least one City Council Member, who could mean the difference between overriding and sustaining a promised veto by Mayor Bloomberg.

“The nation has just witnessed in Florida the dangers posed by racial profiling, and we must ban it here in New York City,” said mayoral candidate and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, referring to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin.

‘Don’t Let Mayor Bully You’

“New Yorkers know we can and must have both personal liberty and public safety, and we cannot allow Bloomberg and others who oppose a ban on racial profiling to bully the City Council into backing away from this urgently needed reform,” Mr. de Blasio said in a rally outside City Hall on July 16.

“A more accurate label for this dangerous legislation is the Criminal Protection bill,” said a radio ad broadcast last week by the Detectives Endowment Association. “Potentially it will stop cops in their tracks by encouraging criminals to sue an officer even though the cop is acting in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution. How effective could you be at your job if every task you performed correctly could result in you being sued?”

In an interview, DEA President Michael J. Palladino said the sponsors have explained the legislation was introduced because Mr. Bloomberg and the NYPD dismissed complaints that the department was overly aggressive in implementing its stop-and-frisk policy.

‘Missing Their Target’

“They’re going to miss their intended target,” he said. “Come January both the Mayor and the Police Commissioner will be gone,” but the legislation will remain to “shackle the rank-and-file members of the NYPD.”

Several Council Members, including profiling-bill co-sponsors Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, called July 18 for public hearings before the Mayor issues his veto.

“We appreciate that it has been common practice in your administration to hold hearings for public comment before you sign legislation passed by the City Council,” they wrote in a letter to Mr. Bloomberg. “We ask that you give New Yorkers that same opportunity for public comment, and that you listen to them before you decide whether to sign or veto these two bills...

“Too often in debates like these, policymakers from some of the city’s wealthier and safer neighborhoods decide what is best for low-income communities and communities of color without actually listening to the members of those communities,” the letter continued.

The police unions are partnering with Mr. Bloomberg in fighting the bill, which was passed along with another that would establish an Inspector General for the NYPD. Mr. Bloomberg said he will veto both bills, but the IG bill passed with 40 votes, six more than the minimum needed to override a veto.

The profiling bill passed with just the minimum 34 votes it needed to be veto-proof, so changing the vote of one Council Member—or encouraging him or her to be out of town when the override vote is taken—would ensure the Mayor wins the battle.

Mr. Bloomberg’s staff has said he will fight for that vote with every lever at his command, but City Hall has been silent about the progress of his effort. The fact that the veto has not come down is being read as a sign that he has not yet been successful.

Links Policy to Crime Drop

The Mayor has said stop, question and frisk is a key reason that crime rates, especially homicides, have fallen during his tenure. Mr. de Blasio and other supporters of the profiling bill fear he will use not only city funds but personal resources from his multi-billion-dollar fortune, as he did five years ago in fighting term limits so he could seek a third term.

The bill would stop officers from using race, ethnicity and other demographic identifiers as the primary reason for stopping or taking other action against individuals. People who feel they were improperly profiled could sue in the state courts. Judges could not award monetary damages, but could issue orders halting the practice that led to the stop. They could also award legal fees against defendants, who could include individual officers.

The PBA has targeted a handful of Council Members who favored the bill, leafleting in their districts to encourage constituents to pressure them to change their vote. Last week, in addition to the DEA ads, the Lieutenants Benevolent Association joined the Sergeants Benevolent Association and the PBA in urging members to exercise caution about stop-and-frisks.

‘Lieutenants Being Charged’

“In the past three weeks, several of our members have received charges and specifications issued by the Civilian Complaint Review Board,” LBA President Louis Turco said in a letter to members. All of the incidents involved stop, question and frisk, he said.

“Therefore, we are advising our members to be especially cautious in regard to exercising stops,” he wrote. “We understand and acknowledge that our members have a duty to protect the public and their fellow officers. However, our members should be cognizant of this increased scrutiny when deciding whether or not to stop an individual.”

In addition to the City Hall rally, supporters staged gatherings in Staten Island, on behalf of Councilwoman Deborah Rose, and in Queens, in support of Councilman Leroy Comrie.

“I live in the community where these acts of overly aggressive policing, stopping everybody randomly, is a way of life,” Ms. Rose, who chairs the Council’s Civil Rights Committee, told the Staten Island Advance after the rally July 17. “And I have a son, who has been stopped numerous times. It’s long past time that we do something that addresses the fact that people’s basic civil rights are being infringed upon on a daily basis in such large numbers as a daily occurrence and as business as usual.”

“Stop, question, and frisk has created a deep divide across Queens between residents and their local precincts, and is a tactic which has been overused across the city,” Mr. Comrie said.

Says Campaign Taking Toll

Mr. Palladino took issue with a statement by Mr. Williams that members supporting the bill feel that union opposition is not hurting them. “I had discussions with quite a number of Council Members on both sides of the issue,” Mr. Palladino said. “My understanding is that the Council Members are quite bothered and concerned about the unions’ efforts.”

He added, “I hope that Williams & Company have the backbone to accept responsibility if crime goes up as a result of their legislation.”

Mr. Palladino said supporters of the profiling bill “claim it’s not intended to go after the individual officer. But it’s certainly going to end up that way.”

“I foresee the agency refusing to admit that its policies are flawed. When their ideas are challenged, they usually blame it on the individual officer. They will prosecute officers in the trial room if a civilian judge comes back with a decision that’s against the NYPD. The legislation doesn’t give any protection to officers from retaliation by the agency.”

Mr. Palladino noted that lawsuits contending that the stop-and-frisk program is run in an unconstitutional fashion, which are pending before U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, could result in a consent decree and a Federal monitor appointed to oversee the program. If a monitor is appointed, he said, “the Inspector General will be nothing more than a high-paid go-fer for that monitor.”

Dueling Cases in Court

Lawyers for the city and for the Center for Constitutional Rights submitted dueling letters to Judge Scheindlin on that issue July 10.

Attorneys Heidi Grossman and Linda Donohue of the city Department of Law said that assuming the Inspector General Bill take effect, “any Federal monitor imposed by the court will result in at least duplicative oversight and potentially inconsistent directives to the NYPD. NYPD should not be placed in a position where it will have to respond to potentially conflicting investigations, findings or recommendations among a monitor and any other overseeing entities...

“It is not in the public interest or the purview of any government authority to hamstring NYPD with bureaucratic or judicial constraints such that NYPD cannot effectively perform constitutional law enforcement,” their letter continued.

CCR attorney Sunita Patel wrote that IG would report to the Mayor and the City Council, but not to Judge Scheindlin. And the IG has no authority to enforce its recommendations, unlike a Federal monitor, who could appeal to the court if he or she is ignored.

The roles of the IG and a court-appointed monitor, Ms. Patel wrote, “would each serve as complementary and necessary pieces of a comprehensive reform process.”

Why the Rush?

“I don’t understand the City Council’s rush,” Mr. Palladino said. “An Inspector General “would probably create more concerns that it’s actually going to address...

They should be waiting for Judge Scheindlin and the new Mayor.”

Lawmakers at the City Hall rally said there was no more time to wait. “We continue to be told that there’s no problem here, that we’re mostly making it up,” said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. “People who go through this three, four, five times in a lifetime—or even in a week—are told that it’s not happening.”

“I’ve lived it. I see it constantly in my community,” said Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda of The Bronx. “Kids are harassed and arrested, straining community relations.” The Council must stand behind the bill, he said, “no matter how much the Mayor spends.”

Councilman Andy King had a message for fellow supporters of the profiling bill: “Do not succumb to any of the tactics of the Mayor and the PBA.”