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NYPD Would Have to Tell of Right to Refuse Searches Under New Bill

By Jeff Mays | November 13, 2014 8:03pm
 The NYPD would be required to inform people that they can refuse to consent to a search where there is no probable cause or a warrant, according to legislation introduced in the City Council Thursday by Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres (center) who is sponsoring the bill along with Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso (left).
The NYPD would be required to inform people that they can refuse to consent to a search where there is no probable cause or a warrant, according to legislation introduced in the City Council Thursday by Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres (center) who is sponsoring the bill along with Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso (left).
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

CITY HALL—The NYPD would be required to tell people that they can refuse a search where there is no probable cause or a warrant, according to legislation introduced in the City Council Thursday.

Called the "Right to Know Act," the legislation would require officers to identify themselves and explain why the individual is being stopped or questioned. They would also have to explain that individuals can deny consent to a search in certain instances.

Currently, police officers are not required to identify themselves or explain why they are searching individuals.

"Consent to search just reaffirms that we have a constitutional right to privacy and we cannot be deprived of our privacy without due process of law," said Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres, who is sponsoring the bill along with Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso.

"An officer cannot search you unless there is probable cause, unless there is an arrest, or unless there is a warrant. If none of those circumstances exist, then an officer cannot search you unless he has your consent."

Reynoso said the bill is targeted to help end discriminatory searches of black and Latino men. A federal judge ruled last year that the city's stop-and-frisk policing policy discriminated against both groups.

"In those cases where you have a right to deny to be searched, you should know," said Reynoso. "What we are doing is allowing our young people, especially young men of color, know they have a right to deny to be searched."

Mayor Bill de Blasio ran on a campaign of ending stop-and-frisk and the practice has dropped during his 11 months in office. However, the mayor has said he does not support this legislation.

Police Commissioner William Bratton and the city's police unions are also not in support of the bill.

"You know, we obviously have to protect the rights of our people, but we also have to make sure that we're not, in any way, undermining the ability of law enforcement to do its job," de Blasio said Wednesday at an unrelated press conference.

De Blasio has touted his recent NYPD policy shift of issuing summonses instead of arresting people found to have 25 grams or less of marijuana in their possession as part of an effort to reduce discriminatory policing against blacks and Latinos.

But Torres said the marijuana policy shift does not go far enough, only replacing "racially discriminatory arrests with racially discriminatory summonses."

The legislation is being supported by some of the same groups that helped to push de Blasio into office, such as Communities United for Police Reform.

The group recently dropped a public relations firm associated with de Blasio in a sign that they intend to push back against the mayor's support of Bratton and the "Broken Windows" theory of policing, which targets smaller crimes to prevent larger ones.

“Under Commissioner Bratton, we’re not seeing the kind of systemic change and transformation at the NYPD that communities of color and all New Yorkers need," Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform, said in a statement announcing the switch. 

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said the proposed bill is being misconstrued as something that will give those involved in criminal activity the right to deny being searched.

"This does nothing to enlarge the public's right not to be searched when they are engaged in suspicious behavior or have committed a crime," said Lieberman.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito declined to issue an opinion on the bill, saying at an afternoon press conference that she has yet to review the legislation.