Members of the City Council will introduce three bills today, sponsored by Councilman Jumaane Williams, that they apparently hope will ease the broiling stop and frisk controversy, but some council observers are already skeptical that the legislation will get any further than the noon press conference.
One of the bills would require cops to state a comprehensive reason why they are stopping New Yorkers, and even leave a business card with them after the stop. That means “name, rank, command, and “the specific reason for the law enforcement activity.”
In the scrum that is policing in this city, and given that cops already have to provide information cards to people they stop and frisk, one wonders whether business cards are the answer. Plus, if another emergency comes over the radio, are cops really going to pause to hand over a business card?
The second bill would make it easier for folks to sue the city claiming that they were stopped for reasons of their race and ethnicity.
It’s already very easy to sue the city on grounds of discrimination, so it’s unclear how much this bill would add if it became law. As one observer wondered, does the city council really want to pass a law that encourages yet more people to sue the city? NYPD court settlements are already costing the city more than $100 million a year.
The third bill requires in part that police officers create a written or recorded record of a person’s consent to a search. That statement would say that the person is “freely and voluntarily providing consent.” There is also a clause in the bill which would require courts to consider a police officer’s “failure to comply” with the bill in deciding whether to toss out evidence found in the search.
None of these three bills address a key cause of the sharp increase in stop and frisks over the bulk of the Bloomberg administration. That cause is quotas.
As the Voice reported in its award-winning NYPD Tapes series, one of the main underlying reasons behind the increase is simply that police officers are being constantly pressured to perform stop and frisks. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has himself said repeatedly that stops are a central element of his “proactive policing” model.
Other critics suggest the bills place the responsibility for the increase in stops on individual police officers, as if they are not simply following demands from their bosses but doing it on their own.
The other question is whether the council even has the legal authority to pass any of those bills. “They are basically trying to legislate police procedure, and I don’t think the council can do that,” a police source says. “That comes under state law. It’s gonna get knocked down in court.”
So, if the bills are problematic, what’s going on here? Could it be the coming election season?
A fourth bill will would require the police commissioner to disclose when his decision on disciplinary cases when he deviates from judgments rendered by his own administrative judges and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
The background here is that the police commissioner has final say on disciplining cops. At times, he discounts the findings of investigators and departs from their recommendations and grants less severe sanctions.
This law, proposed by Brooklyn councilman Albert Vann, would require the police commissioner to provide a written explanation when the punishment he imposes differs from what was recommended. The explanation would be posted to the NYPD website, and given to the CCRB.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 29, 2012