The City Council Passed the Community Safety Act, a Landmark NYPD Bill, Late Last Night


“These bills arraign that we have the best police department we possibly can,” Councilman Brad Lander said around 11 last night. At a stated meeting in City Hall, the legislature convened for a vote on the discharged parts of the Community Safety Act, in an attempt to pass measures that would drastically change the way our police conduct business. And they did: The council voted 40-11 to install an Inspector General for the NYPD and 34-17 to allow citizens to sue the police department on race-related issues.

“If you’ve never been Muslim in New York, please listen to us. If you’ve never been Asian in New York, please listen to us,” Councilman Jumaane D. WIlliams declared to a silent council before his racial profiling bill came to a vote. A great round of applause followed his improvised speech and, soon after, the chamber’s members were allowed two minutes to deliver their opinions on the bills. Once given, these interjections transpired into a forum on legislators’ past experiences with police-led discrimination, with few councilmembers voicing dissent.

The criticisms fell in line with that of Mayor Bloomberg, who has promised a veto for the Community Safety Act, arguing that it would hinder the NYPD’s efficiency in dealing with cases and lead to massive delays in civil courts. However, the majorities won late last night seem to be veto-proof, given that no councilmember changes his or her vote. And, to counter him, Speaker Christine Quinn, who voted for the IG but not the racial profiling measure, cited the existence of federal monitors throughout the Bush administration as a success.

The passage of the Community Safety Act is the most significant legislative gesture stemming from the NYPD’s actions over the past decade. It is a reaction to stop-and-frisk, surveillance of Muslim communities, countless tales of discrimination, and other skeletons in the closet for the country’s largest municipal law enforcement force in the post-9/11 years.

Along with the Community Safety Act, the Council addressed three other pressing measures late last night: the mayoral veto left over from the paid sick leave bill; the passage of Bloomberg’s final budget, totaling $70 billion; and a measure that would allow sidewalk cafes to have brunch before noon. All were overwhelmingly passed by the City Council.

What a night.

UPDATE (6/24/13): Late yesterday afternoon, the City Council voted to discharge parts of the Community Safety Act. The motion passed by a 41-8 margin and, as a result, the most controversial parts of the landmark oversight bill will come to a full vote the next time the council convenes. It’s the first discharge under Speaker Christine Quinn’s leadership.

On both provisions–one to install an inspector general and another to allow racial profiling lawsuits–Quinn voted in support of the discharges, even though she only supports the IG proposal. “I proudly vote aye,” she said yesterday, joining the majority of her chamber. The gesture put her further at odds with Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who got way too real after hearing news of the discharge’s overwhelming passage.

“Take heart, al-Qaeda wannabes, because the City Council has found a way to undermine our partners,” Kelly said.

At least the mayor was a bit lower-key with his call to scrap the bills. “What we mustn’t have is what these law would create: a police department pointlessly hampered by outside intrusion and recklessly threatened by second-guessing from the courts,” he argued. “To jeopardize the lives of kids going forward is just, I would argue, unconscionable.”

We’ll leave you with the following: a statement issued to the Voice by Communities for Police Reform, a main group behind the bill’s existence in the council:

Today’s vote is a victory for democracy, civil rights, public safety, and all who live in our city. It brings us one step closer to achieving true equality and closing the door on discriminatory policies that are remnants of the past and counterproductive to safety. While some would rather use the politics of fear to defend discrimination and inequality, the City Council is looking and moving forward with public support to help our city progress and protect New Yorkers. We applaud council members for standing up for the people they represent and sound public policy, rather than political expediency.

Until the council reconvenes.

Original Post (6/24/13): Outside of City Hall at 10 a.m. today, Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Landers–the two main co-sponsors of the Community Safety Act–will announce the legislature’s anticipated vote on discharging the historic NYPD bills to the council floor. If passed, the bills will move to the final phase of the discharge process (which we highlighted two weeks ago): a City Council vote, one which could establish an inspector general for the NYPD and, in the wake of stop-and-frisk, allow people to sue the boys in blue based on racial discrimination.

The discharge is an attempt by Williams and Landers to evade Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who stands in opposition to the bills through his leadership of the committee on Public Safety. The process set forth two weeks ago is unprecedented in City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s tenure on two levels.

First, it’s the only time a discharge vote has come out of the council under her leadership–it’s been used as a threat numerous times but never actually acted upon. Second, as a legislator and mayoral candidate, she has voiced her support for an inspector general, contrary to Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Republican rival Joe Lhota, but not for the racial bias lawsuits clause. Quinn’s modus operandi states that she only allows bills out on the floor that she supports. This will be her first exception.

A source with knowledge of the council has informed the Voice that the discharge vote will most likely be granted, given that it already has 33 sponsors. That puts the bill over the majority threshold by seven votes.

Regardless, we’ll keep you updated.