Chief-Leader
July 29, 2013

 

Mayor’s Veto of Anti-Profiling Bill Puts Pressure on Council Majority

Police Unions Hope for Defection

By Mark Toor

More than 20 City Council Members who supported two bills curtailing police powers that were vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg rallied July 24 at City Hall, promising to maintain their veto-proof majorities amid efforts by “the bully billionaire,” as Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito described him, to change enough votes for at least one veto to be sustained.

Jumaane Williams, a co-sponsor of the bills—which would create an Inspector General to oversee the NYPD and expand an existing ban on profiling—praised colleagues who “voted with us under the pressure of a billionaire Mayor and lies from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.”

That union and four others representing cops say, however, that the profiling bill in particular would harm their members.

‘Don’t Need to Profile’

“We can keep our city safe without profiling our neighbors,” said the second co-sponsor, Brad Lander. “The Mayor’s veto messages are full of mischaracterizations and falsehoods.”

“The Mayor is out of touch with reality,” said Mark Weprin, one of three Council Members who have been targeted for defeat in upcoming elections by the PBA because they voted for the bills. “The [profiling] bill does not end stop and frisk,” he continued. “It just says you can’t do unconstitutional stops of people going about their business.”

Supporters of the bills have attacked the Mayor and the police unions for what they said were lies they spread about their impact. One key issue—pushed by Mr. Bloomberg and the unions and vigorously denied by the sponsors—is the contention that the profiling bill would forbid officers from using descriptors when seeking suspects, meaning they could not describe the object of a pursuit by race, gender or other factors such as disability status.

Mr. Williams repeated his promise—aimed at the unions this time because Mr. Bloomberg refused to take him up on it—to withdraw the bill if anyone can point out to him the specific language that would prohibit such descriptions. He said opponents should “put up or shut your mouth.”

‘Just Clarifies Law’

“What the Mayor and his people are saying about this legislation is simply not true,” Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, a former State Attorney General, said at the rally. “The profiling bill merely clarifies existing law...Opposition to these bills is absolutely unfounded.”

In vetoing the two bills July 23, Mr. Bloomberg said they were “dangerous and irresponsible.” One would expand the definition of profiling—an officer’s use of a demographic characteristic to initiate police action—beyond race and ethnicity to factors including gender identity, age, sex and immigration status. People who feel they were profiled could sue seeking an order stopping the NYPD from using such tactics.

The second bill would create an Inspector General who would investigate and report on the NYPD’s “operations, policies, programs and practices.”

Needs to Sway 1 Vote

Mr. Bloomberg promised to veto both bills right after they were passed June 27, and staff members said he would use any lever he could to shift votes in order to scuttle the override efforts. The profiling bill passed with 34 votes, the minimum number needed for an override. The IG bill passed with a more-secure 40 votes.

The vetoes weren’t issued until July 23, the day before the deadline, an indication that Mr. Bloomberg so far may have failed to sway any votes. Mr. Lander said the Council would accept the veto messages at a meeting later on the 24th, then refer them to committee. When the committee receives the messages, the 30-day countdown for an override effort begins.

The five police unions had lined up unanimously against both bills, and some issued statements praising the veto.

“It is not an exaggeration nor is it a doomsday threat to say that passage of this legislation is dangerous for the city and that it will turn the NYPD from a successful, crime-fighting, proactive department back into the hesitant and reactive one we had during the crime-filled days of the '80s and '90s,” said Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

Put Cops on Defensive

“If these bills become law,” he continued, “it will force police officers to protect themselves against frivolous lawsuits instead of protecting the city from criminals. I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a police officer who is facing a possible lawsuit for every action he or she takes. Would you go out and proactively fight crime or react only when it finds you?”

The Captains Endowment Association said the profiling bill “is bad law with deadly consequences.”

“The City Council is rightly standing up against unlawful discrimination but using the wrong legislation to further the cause,” said CEA President Roy Richter. “...This new law will cause police officers to refrain from relaying important descriptions of perpetrators to responding officers when investigating violent crime. That is not in anyone’s interest and is dangerous to the public and the police.”

Mr. Bloomberg said in his veto messages that the anti-profiling bill would give judges “unprecedented leeway” to disapprove police policies, that police commanders would be confused about what practices could survive court scrutiny, that police officers would be deterred from taking action, and that the bill would create new expenditures for the city in legal fees and police officers’ time.

Make Cops Suit-Conscious

If the bill becomes law, “virtually everyone in New York City could sue the police about any action a police officer might take, and it would authorize lawsuits against individual police officers,” Mr. Bloomberg wrote. “From the police officer’s perspective, then, every officer acting under a description that includes some characteristic of a possible perpetrator would have to think about whether taking action would result in a lawsuit.”

He criticized the “disparate impact” theory included in the bill, which throws into question any practice that has a disproportionate effect on a specific population group.

“Patrol strategies, investigations, arrests, the deployment of police resources in particular neighborhoods or areas, the use of cameras in high-crime neighborhoods, even counterterrorism intelligence-gathering or surveillance operations: all could be subject to challenge based on the claim that police activities have a disparate impact by gender, or age, or religion, or housing status, or any of the categories set forth in the bill,” he wrote.

The IG bill is unnecessary because the NYPD is already “subject to more internal and external oversight than any other police department in the United States,” Mr. Bloomberg said. He said the proposed IG would “go far beyond” what current Inspectors General do, investigating not only corruption and other criminal activity but also “everything the Police Department does. Doing so would create confusion within the Police Department about whose policies to follow—the Police Commissioner’s or this new official’s.”

This unparalleled oversight would create a reluctance on the part of other law-enforcement agencies to work with the NYPD on sensitive issues such as terrorism, he said, and also create a huge cost burden for both the Police Department and the Department of Investigation, which would house the IG.

‘All Treated As Suspicious’

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has filed lawsuits challenging the way the NYPD runs its stop-and-frisk program, said, “Mayor Bloomberg just doesn’t understand that the same deeply ingrained biases and prejudices that put Trayvon Martin into George Zimmerman’s cross-hairs are manifested in law-enforcement policies like stop-and-frisk, in which police officers treat all young men of color as suspicious or dangerous—stopping them by the hundreds of thousands without any legal basis whatsoever.”

“It’s pretty simple,” said Priscilla Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Communities United for Police Reform. “Either you believe people should be treated differently simply because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or immigration status, or you find that repulsive and believe it should be outlawed.”

tactics of the Mayor and the PBA.”