Chief-Leader
August 26, 2013

 

Council Overrides Veto of Police Bills; Bloomberg Now Looks to the Courts

PBA: Will Make Cops Passive

By MARK TOOR

The City Council on Aug. 22 overrode Mayor Bloomberg’s vetoes of two bills that would create an independent Inspector General for the NYPD and expand the definition of police profiling, with their co-sponsors saying that the new laws will ensure that police officers “‘serve and protect’ all New York City residents, regardless of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.”

Mayor Bloomberg, reacting to the second hammer blow to his stop, question and frisk program in 10 days, said he “will ask the courts to step in before innocent people are harmed.” In a statement, he said, “Today’s vote is an example of election-year politics at its very worst and political pandering at its most deadly.”

‘Body Blow’ to Cops

The police unions joined him in expressing dissatisfaction, saying the new laws will hamstring cops from doing proactive policing. “It’s a body blow to law enforcement in this city,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, told THE CHIEF-LEADER. “I hope the same Council Members who voted for this bill will come out in a year or two and explain to the public why crime has gone up...This will turn police officers into report-takers.”

Not suprisingly, the co-sponsors of the bills, Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, released a statement saying, “Today marks a monumental civil-rights victory for New Yorkers...This historic legislation not only reaffirms the constitutional rights of people of color, but enables police officers to focus on effective crime-prevention measures that ensure community safety.

“The mandate to end the abuse of the stop-and-frisk program came from New Yorkers of all backgrounds,” the statement continued. “From Brooklyn to the Bronx, New Yorkers were vocal in their desire for a Police Department that is proactive and effective in its crime-fighting tactics, while rejecting an ineffective quota system of racial profiling.”

The “Core 34,” the Council Members who voted in favor of the profiling bill, remained firm in voting to override. Thirty-four votes was the minimum needed to set aside a veto, and Mr. Bloomberg’s aides had said he would use every lever at his command, from city funds to privately-controlled foundations and political-action funds, to sway at least one vote. He was unsuccessful. The veto of the Inspector General bill was overridden by 39 votes.

Stop-and-Frisk Debate

The two bills, which make up the Community Safety Act, were introduced with the aim of bringing the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program under control after Mayor Bloomberg refused to meet with civic leaders who felt it was being run too aggressively.

Mr. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly say stop-and-frisk was a key tool in reducing crime, especially homicides, during the Mayor’s nearly 12 years in office. They say controls on the police like the two bills the Mayor unsuccessfully vetoed will only cause crime to rise.

Opponents of the program say many stops were driven not by reasonable suspicion as required by the U.S. Supreme Court, but by racial profiling and quotas set by precinct commanders. These stops, many of which involve physical or verbal abuse, alienate communities from their police, the foes say.

The program was also set back Aug. 12 when U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD had an unwritten practice of stopping young black and Latino men in low-income neighborhoods without the required suspicion of criminal activity. She appointed a Federal monitor to oversee changes in the program. The Mayor appealed the decision, predicting mayhem and bloodshed if it is allowed to stand.

‘Some Woman Know-Nothing’

He also attacked Judge Scheindlin on a personal level. “Your safety and the safety of your kids is now in the hands of some woman who does not have the expertise to do it,” he said on his radio show.

Civil-liberties advocates praised the override vote.

“This is the beginning of the end of our democracy tolerating police using race, ethnicity, LGBT-status, or faith as a substitute for reasonable suspicion,” Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, said in his statement. “We are thankful to the 34 City Council members who heroically stood up for the American ideals of freedom and justice, and stood together in the face of fact-defying and fear-mongering by the Mayor and Commissioner.”

“The Community Safety Act is an important step toward a more just approach to policing in New York City where everyone is treated with dignity and respect,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said at a rally on the City Hall steps before the vote.

Like the PBA, other police unions saw another side to the story.

“The members of this Council who voted for the misnamed Community Safety Act were elected to further the needs of their constituents,” said Roy Richter, president of the Captains Endowment Association. “That need is obviously for a less-aggressive police force regardless of the associated risk.”

“The City Council’s actions are reckless and irresponsible,” said Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association. “They have halted any proactive policing and have absolutely no plan on what to do when crime increases in the communities they represent. Speaker [Christine] Quinn and the Council had the authority to restore some headcount in the NYPD to offset the reliance on stop-and-frisk, but they buried their heads in the sand.”

Blaming the Budget

The DEA and other unions have said that a drop in the number of uniformed officers from 41,000 to 34,500 during Mr. Bloomberg’s term has caused an over-reliance on stop-and-frisk by NYPD commanders trying to do the same policing with fewer cops.

The profiling law replaces one signed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2004 that prohibits profiling on the basis of race or ethnicity. Supporters of the new law say the old one was unenforceable because it was sloppily drawn and contained no penalties for violations.

The new law prohibits profiling not just on the basis of race or ethnicity—actual or perceived—but for “national origin, color, creed, age, alienage or citizenship status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or housing status.” People who feel they were wrongly profiled can sue the Police Department and the officers involved in state court. Judges cannot award monetary damages, but can issue orders blocking whatever policy justified the stop.

Police unions fear the law presumes that officers are guilty of discrimination unless they prove otherwise. (The Sergeants Benevolent Association distributed pens with the legend, “Community Safety Act: Presuming cops are guilty since 2013.”) They also say the law could open up officers to paying legal costs for themselves and the plaintiffs, if the city refuses to indemnify them. The law will encourage development of a cottage industry of lawyers suing the city over profiling, they argue.

Supporters: That’s Wrong

Supporters of the law say it sets a high bar for demonstrating discrimination and will therefore not encourage a flood of suits. They point to the millions of dollars now spent to settle lawsuits claiming wrongdoing by police, including unjustified stop-and-frisks.

The Inspector General law creates an independent overseer of the NYPD to “investigate, review, study, audit and make recommendations relating to the operations, policies, programs and practices, including ongoing partnerships with other law-enforcement agencies...with the goal of enhancing the effectiveness of the department, increasing public safety, protecting civil liberties and civil rights, and increasing the public’s confidence in the police force.”

Mr. Bloomberg said the law would create a new bureaucracy in opposition to the Police Commissioner, confusing officers about whose rules to follow and, in a worst-case scenario, allowing them to be killed in gunfights while they think it through. He says that the NYPD has multiple layers of oversight both inside and outside the department and that Federal agencies worried about leaks would be reluctant to work with the department on terrorism issues.

Supporters of the law say the IG will be subordinate to the mayor, that these multiple layers of oversight are useless in dealing with cases like that of whistleblower Adrian Schoolcraft and that the FBI and CIA manage to work with their own Inspectors General.