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City Dismisses Proposed Reforms to Stop-and-Frisk at Heated Hearing

By Jill Colvin | October 10, 2012 10:24pm

CITY HALL — The City Council doesn’t have the power to reign in the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, the Bloomberg administration argued Wednesday during a heated hearing that had members at each other’s throats.

Lawyer Michael Best, testifying on behalf of the administration, said proposed legislation that would add new regulations to the program, including forcing cops to hand out business cards to those they stop, are unnecessary and overstep the council’s bounds.

“As a statutory matter, these issues are governed entirely by state law,” Best said in his testimony against the so-called Community Safety Act, which he said included bulky provisions that would threaten public safety by preventing cops from doing their jobs.

During his testimony, he also dismissed the council's call for an NYPD inspector general to monitor the agency, arguing the Internal Affairs Bureau and other oversight agencies already do an adequate job.

“The NYPD is already subject to a large amount of oversight by a number of different entities at the city, state and federal levels, and there is no need," he said.

But City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other members of the council objected, arguing the city has every right to set local regulations, as long as they don’t directly conflict with state law.

The NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau has proven it isn't equipped to investigate systemic issues, such as abuses of stop-and-frisk or allegations of quotas or crime stat manipulation, City Councilman Brad Lander said.

Another piece of legislation also up for debate would prohibit the NYPD from profiling based on a list of factors, including age, sex and gender identity, in addition to ethnicity, religion and race. The bill would also allow any person or organization affected by bias-based profiling to sue the city as well as officers engaged in profiling for damages.

But Best threatened the legislation would cause "enormous problems for the city," including preventing police from using basic racial descriptors as they search for criminals. He also threatened it would  "explode" the city's budget by exposing it to "immediate lawsuits by potentially everybody in the city."

Council members have proposed an amendment to the profiling bill that would free the city from having to pay out damages for breaking the profiling law.

At one point, the council also heard testimony from Jose LaSalle, an anti-stop-and-frisk activist whose 16-year-old stepson recently released an audio tape that he claims documents his own experience being stopped and frisked.

In the recording, men on the tape, allegedly NYPD officers, can be heard calling the boy a "f--king mutt."

The recording was met with shock and outrage, including from Councilman Robert Jackson, who called for an investigation during Wednesday's hearing.

"It’s despicable, totally unacceptable,” he railed. “It should not be tolerated in our NYPD."

Despite the stunning recording and the heated exchanges over stop-and-frisk, the most fireworks occurred between council members themselves, who sparred with each other throughout the hearing.

Tensions began to rise as Public Safety Chair Peter Vallone Jr. chided other members for discussing issues beyond the pending legislation.

“This isn’t a forum for people to make speeches,” Vallone said.

Bronx City Councilwoman Helen Foster slapped back, accusing Vallone of abusing his position.

“I don’t work for you. I am not one of your boys. You will not talk to me like that,” she said, forcing Quinn to intervene.

Quinn, who is preparing for a mayoral run, hasn’t yet taken a position on any of the bills but said she believes additional reforms are necessary to make sure certain populations aren't being unfairly targeted by stop-and-frisk.

“I fear the impact of stop, question and frisk has created a divide between those communities and the police,” she said.

The NYPD made nearly 700,000 stops last year — the vast majority of which involved black and Latino young men.

Each of the bills has more than enough votes to pass, if Quinn allows them to come to the floor.