In the latest push for police reform, the New York City Council is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would require the New York Police Department to publicly disclose its use of surveillance technology and get input from the public when putting together policies about how the technology is used.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed his support for the initiative should the council approve it. The NYPD, however, has said information about the use of surveillance devices and other technology may jeopardize the work of undercover officers and informants if revealed publicly.
The bill is among several other policy changes being debated in the wake of weeks-long protest against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd.
Among those changes is an online database that will let New Yorkers track disciplinary cases against police officers accused of excessive force and other violations and view their administrative records, Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday.
The NYPD will also adopt tighter deadlines to speed up the disciplinary process, the mayor said. The reforms are meant to bring more transparency to a system long criticized for being too secretive and plagued by lengthy delays in holding police officers accountable for misconduct.
“We have to know that if something’s done right, it will be recognized and when something’s done wrong, it will be acted on,” de Blasio said. “When people know that, that’s what helps them have greater faith.”
He added: “I want everything we have to be put on online.”
The move drew a swift rebuke from the head of the Police Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union, who said it undermines privacy protections.
“It allows employers to release whatever they want, whenever and however they want,” PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement.
Lynch also labeled the measures to expedite cases “arbitrary” and vulnerable to predetermined outcomes driven by politics.
“In the current environment, every police officer knows what that outcome will be,” he said.
Tina Luongo, a top attorney with The Legal Aid Society, said the public defender organization would “monitor this process to ensure that any database is comprehensive, complete, and includes officers’ full histories of misconduct.”
The mayor’s announcement follows decisions in recent days to make officers’ body-camera footage more widely available and to disband a plainclothes anti-crime unit that critics said was too aggressive. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo also signed legislation barring the NYPD and other police departments in the state from keeping the public in the dark about disciplinary records.
De Blasio said that going forward, outcomes of the NYPD’s administrative proceedings against officers and their disciplinary records will be posted online. Next month, the public also will have access to information on about 1,100 pending cases, including names of officers, charges and hearing dates, the mayor said.
In addition, the new measures call for NYPD officials to decide within 48 hours whether to suspend or impose desk duty on officers accused of causing “substantial injury.” The department would then have two weeks to decide on charges, as opposed to having no specific deadlines in the past.
Also Wednesday, the state’s attorney general held the first of two days of remote hearings on the NYPD’s rough treatment of people protesting in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The hearing is expected to continue on Thursday.
Letitia James, a Democrat, is investigating allegations that officers used excessive force to quell unrest and enforce a citywide curfew. Clashes caught on video showed police vehicles ramming a crowd, an officer pulling down a man’s mask and pepper spraying him in the face and an officer violently shoving a woman, causing her to hit the back of her head on the pavement.
That woman, Dounya Zayer, testified that she has suffered constant migraines and struggled to keep down food after the May 29 shove left her in the hospital with a seizure and concussion.
Zayer, who said she fears retaliation if she leaves her home, got angry when James suggested the officers involved in harming her “really don’t reflect the vast majority of the officers and NYPD.”
“Where are the good cops that I keep hearing of?” Zayer said. “I thank you for your sympathy, but I don’t want to hear there are good cops when not a single good cop helped me.”