THE BRONX — A decision by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to allow the NYPD to implement changes to how police interact with the public — instead of passing legislation to mandate it — is wrong and will be challenged, City Council members and police reform advocates say.
Mark-Viverito announced that after a year of negotiations with the NYPD, provisions of the "Right to Know Act" would be added to the department's patrol guide instead of pushed into law.
Under the proposed legislation, the NYPD would have been required to tell people that they can refuse a search where there is no probable cause or a warrant. The legislation would have also required officers to identify themselves and explain why the individual is being stopped or questioned.
Police would also have been required to explain that individuals can deny consent to a search in certain instances.
Advocates say the legislation would help end discriminatory police stops that are predominately performed on black and Latino men in communities of color across the city. In 2013, a federal judge said the city's practice of stop and frisk discriminated against black and Latino men.
Under the agreement negotiated by Mark-Viverito, NYPD officers would be required to ask in a clear manner, in a way that elicits a yes or no answer, whether they can conduct a search. They would also have to explain that they can only conduct the search with permission from the individual.
Officers will also be required to offer a business card or a tear-off sheet with the officer's information following the search of an individual, their property or possessions, including a car. Police would also have to offer the information after searching someone's home or searching someone at a checkpoint.
Speaking at a press conference in The Bronx on Wednesday, Mark-Viverito defended the deal, saying that it it averted a legal challenge, which would have held up implementation of the law.
"I understand there's disappointment. I understand that there are people protesting on the steps (of City Hall). I hear that," Mark Viverito said. "We've clearly said that legislation is not off the table, the door is not closed to legislation but there is a partnership and a willingness with the NYPD to start voicing these changes right now."
The changes will be added to the patrol guide in two to three months and officers will be trained in the new procedures over the next six to nine months.
But advocates say many of these requirements already exist in the patrol guide and are ignored by officers and the department, hence the need for legislation to compel the officers to follow the law.
Administrative actions are also not permanent and changes could be made to the patrol guide at a later date, say critics who gathered on the steps of City Hall to rally against the deal. Protesters harshly criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mark-Viverito and Police Commissioner William Bratton.
"Mark-Viverito is making back door deals with police commissioner, the devil himself. He don't even like black people. He don't care about us," said Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teen shot dead by police in his Bronx home in 2012.
Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, the Staten Island father who died at the hands of police after being placed in a chokehold in 2014, said "all of his rights" were violated by police during the deadly confrontation.
"The chokehold has been banned for decades. Did they follow it? No. Did they stand accountable for it? No. So this is what we want today, accountability," Carr said.
Federal authorities are investigating civil rights charges in the Garner case after a grand jury declined to indict the officers involved.
Both de Blasio and Bratton oppose the legislation.
Bratton, at a City Council hearing last year, said the legislation was a sign of "significant mistrust" of police officers and represents "unprecedented intrusions into the operational management" of the police department.
De Blasio, speaking with Mark-Viverito in The Bronx, said the changes to the police department under the agreement are "rapid and extraordinary."
Advocates should see the changes to the patrol guide as "practical progressive change" and as a victory, the mayor added."There's more than one way to win," de Blasio said. "If the substantive policy change achieves your goals, you win."