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Council Moves on Police Oversight Bills Despite Speaker's Deal With NYPD

By Jeff Mays | July 15, 2016 10:42am
 One of the sponsors of legislation that would require police to obtain consent to conduct searches without a warrant or probable cause said he plans to push forward with the bills even after Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito negotiated to allow the NYPD to implement some of the changes themselves.
One of the sponsors of legislation that would require police to obtain consent to conduct searches without a warrant or probable cause said he plans to push forward with the bills even after Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito negotiated to allow the NYPD to implement some of the changes themselves.
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William Alatriste/City Council

NEW YORK CITY — One of the sponsors of legislation that would require police to obtain consent to conduct searches without a warrant or probable cause said he plans to push forward with the bills after Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito negotiated what critics call a "back-door deal" to allow the NYPD to instead implement some of the changes themselves.

"I'm intent on forging ahead. The 'Right to Know Act' is...so sweeping that people of color who have encounters with the police will feel the impact of the legislation but the same cannot be said of the administrative proposal," said Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres. "It's too narrow in scope to have the kind of impact on police community relations that our city needs."

Torres added he is closing in on a veto-proof majority of council support for the legislation. Under City Council rule changes, legislation with enough support can be brought forth for a vote without the approval of the council speaker.

"The opposition of the NYPD is hysterical and indefensible, and I worry that the administrative proposal plays into the perception that the City Council, city government in general, is almost unquestionably deferential to the commissioner of the NYPD," Torres said.

The move comes after Mark-Viverito reached a compromise with the NYPD to incorporate some of the proposals into their patrol guide instead of passing the "Right to Know Act," which is widely supported by the City Council.

Under the proposed legislation, the NYPD would be required to tell individuals 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.

The changes Mark-Viverito negotiated to the patrol guide require NYPD officers to elicit a yes or no answer to the question of whether they can conduct a search. Individuals would also have to be informed that police are not able to conduct the search without their permission.

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.

The new rules are expected to be added in two to three months and all officers will be trained in the new procedures over the next six to nine months. The compromise also avoids a legal challenge that would delay the implementation of the law, Mark-Viverito has argued.

"The negotiations were based on the bills. The bills clearly indicate what it is that the sponsors wanted and clearly what the advocates wanted. Anything we negotiate with the administration is based on the bills so that is the framework of the conversation," Mark-Viverito said Thursday.

"Sponsors had opportunities to meet with the administration. Sponsors asked me to meet with the advocates. There was always a very open process. There was no backroom deal here," she added.

Advocates disagreed.

Loyda Colon, co-director of the Justice Committee, an advocacy group headed by Latinos, said the patrol guide changes "watered down" the legislation and "subvert the democratic process."

Torres said he was not in the room with the NYPD and Mark-Viverito during negotiations but that the speaker was "forthright with me and communicative" about her plans.

He says he that as a rank and file member of the City Council he could not stop the body's leader from striking a deal so they developed "an agreement to disagree."

But Torres says the NYPD rule changes fall far short of the legislation. For example, police only have to provide identification for themselves after the search of an individual or his or her property under the administrative rule changes.

But since many stops don't lead to search, critics say, the majority of interactions would not be shielded under the patrol guide changes.

'What I'm advocating for is not radical," Torres said. "There's nothing radical about requiring officers to identify themselves and explain the reasons for our encounter. There's nothing radical about a business card."

Advocates believe the legislation will help reduce discriminatory police stops of mostly black and Latino men in predominately communities of color across the five boroughs. In 2013, a federal judge found that the city's stop and frisk policy violated the constitutional rights of mostly black and Latino men.

Police Commissioner William Bratton is opposed to legislation mandating the changes and said at a hearing last year that the bill represents "unprecedented intrusions into the operational management" of the police department.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also opposed the legislation but said the changes to the patrol guide are a victory for advocates.

But advocates, including over 200 community organizations who support the bill, say that changes to the patrol guide are easily reversible.

"We cannot depend on the NYPD to act in our best interests," Brooklyn Councilwoman Inez Barron said at a protest outside of City Hall Wednesday.

Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams vowed to push for a vote on the legislation.

"The policies in the patrol guide have not saved us before. The policies in the patrol guide are routinely ignored with impunity," Williams said. "They do not have the force of law."

Torres said he's unclear when the legislation would come up for a vote but his goal is before this term is over in 18 months. He said he was being intentionally vague so as to not "telegraph my strategy" to enemies of the bill.

"If you're facing opposition from the mayor, police commissioner, and speaker then you have an uphill challenge," Torres said.