When It Comes to Collecting NYPD Data, City Council Lives in a Post-Racial World
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito talks up police transparency bills at a press conference on Thursday.
The New York City Council passed a set of police oversight bills on Thursday that itself contained a glaring oversight.
The legislation, touted by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and her colleagues, requires the NYPD to aggregate and publicly report how often they use force, where arrests for some petty crimes take place, and how many cops rack up long records of disciplinary problems.
But the laws don't require the department to include race in their reports.
"I guess that’s an oversight on all of our parts," Queens councilmember Rory Lancman, the nominal sponsor of the bill detailing use of force incidents, told the Voice, insisting that no deliberate choice had been made to leave race out.
Expanding on those comments after the conference, Lancman stressed that inclusion of race data hadn’t even come up, as far as he knew: "It was never part of the conversation, honestly."
Besides, if you know the general racial makeup of a certain area, Lancman argued, you can get an idea of which demographic groups are suffering the brunt of police violence.
"As long as we know which precinct the information is coming from, we will be able to say whether or not the use of force in this precinct involves people of color, or whether or not it’s white people," he said.
The omission of perhaps the most significant category of data was pointed out by a number of advocacy groups in the run-up to Thursday's vote, including in written testimony from the New York Civil Liberties Union earlier this week.
"In 2016, it is inexcusable that neither bill includes a requirement for reporting of demographic data …" the NYCLU wrote, data which is already readily available, since it’s routinely collected "by the CCRB, on police department forms, and new summons forms."
Still, lawmakers seemed caught off guard when reporters from multiple outlets asked, pointedly, about the omission at a press conference Thursday afternoon. They quickly conferred with a legislative aide; nope, no race data.
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About four hours after the afternoon’s press conference ended, a council press representative called to say that the NYPD had promised to disclose demographic data. Other council aides confirmed the unwritten agreement. All three measures had already passed by that point.
A spokesman for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito assured us that they had made a verbal agreement with the NYPD and that the department would include race in their reports.
The passage of the legislation came a day after Speaker Mark-Viverito prevented another series of NYPD reform bills from being voted on, despite their overwhelming support from the City Council.
Aside from Lancman's bill, another sponsored by Brooklyn councilmember Jumaane Williams requires the NYPD to release data on where arrests and summonses for so-called "quality of life offenses" — i.e., Broken Windows offenses — are concentrated. A third, sponsored by Staten Island councilmember Deborah Rose, would release some statistical data about officers who are the subjects of multiple complaints, internal-affairs investigations, or arrests, and where they are deployed.
None of the bills require race data to be disclosed.
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