City council members laid down the law to the NYPD on Thursday, backing reforms that would strip police brass of their control over the department and forcing police to pay more heed to complaints that they violate citizens’ rights.
The council bills would make it easier to sue cops for improper searches and excessive force, and require the Police Department to track the race and ethnicity of motorists pulled over in traffic stops.
The council also backed a move in the state Legislature to strip Police Commissioner Dermot Shea of the final say in disciplinary cases and require new police hires to reside in the five boroughs.
None of the measures passed unanimously, but Mayor de Blasio called it “a very, very strong reform package.”
Police unions — never fans of the idea of police reform — griped that the bills amounted to “attacking” cops and letting criminals run wild.
“New Yorkers are getting shot, and police officers are on the streets day and night, trying to stop the bloodshed,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association.
But reformers said the council’s bills didn’t go far enough.
“The Mayor’s plan is a far cry from the transformative change New Yorkers demanded in the streets and at the polls,” said New York Civil Liberties Union senior policy counsel Michael Sisitzky. “It is, simply put, more of the same.”
One of the most controversial council votes was nothing more than a resolution urging the state Legislature to strip Shea and his successors of the final say in disciplinary cases. The resolution passed by a 39-11 vote.
Though many disciplinary cases begin before the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Shea in fact has final say in whether cops are punished — including whether they are fired.
“The police commissioner overrules the CCRB and/or the trial judge 71% of the time,” said Councilman Stephen Levin of Brooklyn. “That is absolutely evidence of a dysfunctional system.”
But the city’s top cop said taking away his power over discipline will handcuff the department.
“Ask any police chief that doesn’t have the final say on discipline and you will find a chief who has had officers returned to duty that shouldn’t have been and in many of those cases more acts of misconduct by an officer the chief wanted to fire,” Shea said in a statement.
“No other city agency uses that system nor does the FBI, the Secret Service, or the Marines. There is a reason for that. You need to know where the buck stops,” Shea said.
But Civilian Complaint Review Board chair Fred Davie said it’s high time for transparency, and for his board to impose discipline on its own.
“Providing the CCRB with final disciplinary authority would lead to greater police accountability and ensure New Yorkers have a disciplinary process that — from start to finish— is totally independent from the police department,” Davie said.
Another of the council bills clears a legal hurdle to suing the NYPD alleging unreasonable search and seizure and excessive force. Under the qualified immunity provision, in a lawsuit the city has been able to get claims dismissed by showing no prior court case covers that exact situation. The council voted 37-11 to eliminate that hurdle.
Another requires the NYPD to more closely track the race and ethnicity of motorists stopped by police. The department would have to issue a quarterly report on all stops that includes number of summonses issued, arrests made, vehicles seized, related use of force incidents and vehicle searches. That passed 43-6.
“‘Driving while Black’ isn’t just an issue in middle America,” said Council Public Safety Committee chair Adrienne Adams. “But we have no idea how bad this problem is in New York City because the NYPD doesn’t track race when it writes tickets and it doesn’t report how many stops it makes.”
The Council also passed a bill by a 39-10 vote to turn over vehicle crash investigative functions from the NYPD to the city Department of Transportation.
Another resolution supports a second state Legislature proposal to sharpen the residency requirement for police officers, requiring newly hired cops to live in New York City. That passed 42-7.
The Council also put through a resolution to adopt de Blasio’s police plan in response to Gov. Cuomo’s executive order that directs municipalities to make changes to their police departments or risk losing state funding. That passed 40-10, but it was sharply criticized by some.
The committee adopted the mayor’s plan with some amendments, including 5,000 new summer job slots for CUNY students, $29.5 million for anti-violence and mental health case management services, and additional funds for mental health outreach and families at risk of homelessness.
The NYCLU’s Sisitzky and other advocates slammed the package as too weak, particularly the mayor’s response to Cuomo’s executive order.
“The de Blasio administration has had since June to respond to the requirement to build a plan that would decrease the size, scope and power of the NYPD,” said Sisitzky. “Instead, they are laying a shoddy foundation for future reform that privileges NYPD input over the voices of Black and Latinx communities that have been afflicted by police abuse for far too long.”
Community advocacy group VOCAL-NY said the mayor’s plan doesn’t even come close to what’s needed and ignores those who want to shrink the size of the NYPD’s budget.
“Mayor de Blasio clearly made this plan without actually listening to what people need. We don’t need police in the community and we don’t need them repairing basketball courts. We need education, housing, and access to resources, not police,” said Carl Stubbs, VOCAL-NY community leader.
The police unions blasted the measures and accused City Council members of “attacking” cops and letting criminals run wild.
“Where are those City Council members?” asked Lynch of the PBA. “Safe at home, hiding behind their screens and dreaming up new ways to give criminals a free pass. It won’t get better unless New Yorkers shame the politicians into doing their job.”
The New York City Law Enforcement Coalition — which also includes the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Lieutenants Benevolent Association and the Captains Endowment Association — put an electronic message board on a vehicle near City Hall to drive home its point.
“New Yorkers shot this year? 250. That’s 41% more than last year,” the billboard reads. “What is the City Council doing? Nothing. Except attacking cops. Shame on the City Council.”
Several Council members criticized the mayor for forwarding the draft plan just a few weeks ahead of the governor’s April 1 deadline when the administration had 10 months to compile it. The mayor’s final plan was turned over to the council just this week.
“It doesn’t not do what we need to have done. it will have no substantial impact,” Councilwoman Inez Barron of Brooklyn said.
But Adams said it was a necessity, however flawed. “If we don’t adopt this (measure), the governor can withhold federal funding,” Adams said. “This is only the floor and not the ceiling. This is the beginning of reform, certainly not the end.”
The measures will now be passed to the mayor for signing.
With Thomas Tracy