Mayor Bloomberg is bracing for a showdown with the City Council over the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy. He is trying to disarm a bill which would expand the definition of profiling and authorize litigation against it.
In a letter to the City Council, Michael Best, a lawyer for the mayor, claims the bill would end the use of stop-and-frisk and therefore jeopardize public safety.
“[The bill] is a way to prevent police officers from stopping anyone at all, to encourage lawsuits that threaten effective police strategies, and to take decisions about how to prevent crime out of the Police Department’s hands,” Best wrote.
While a near majority of the City Council supports the bill, Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, is staunchly opposed and refuses to hold a hearing on it. Vallone noted that the sponsors could discharge the bill from the committee and circumvent him, but said that has never been done before.
“You can believe Ray Kelly and I, or you can believe the sponsors of the bill who don’t have one day of law enforcement experience in their lives,” Vallone said, referring to the police commissioner and noting his own six years of experience as a prosecutor and 11 years as chairman of the committee. “Ray Kelly is so upset, he’s personally calling council members.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union supports the bill because it “gives New Yorkers an important tool to challenge discrimination that’s already illegal under New York City law,” Interim Advocacy Director Johanna Miller said. It also expands the definition of bias to protect more groups of people.
The bill precludes bias based on “actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration or citizenship status, language, disability (including HIV status), housing status, occupation, or socioeconomic status.”
“Bias-based profiling by the police alienates communities from law enforcement, violates New Yorkers’ rights and freedoms, and is a danger to public safety,” the bill states.
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) called the proposed bill “vitally important.” He said that there were more than 18,000 stop and frisks in his district last year and only 8,000 this year, with no change in the homicide rate, which must indicate that most of them were unnecessary.
“We’re not trying to eliminate stop-and-frisk completely. We’re trying to make sure they do it selectively, with reasonable suspicion,” Dromm said.
Best contends that the bill is redundant because state and local laws already prohibit profiling and require reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before a police officer can stop an individual. He also noted that citizens who believe that they have been unlawfully stopped by the police already have several legal remedies, including filing a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Board, a tort in state court, or a federal lawsuit.
Miller said the bill is necessary because the current ban is unclear and doesn’t set forth a specific avenue for citizens to protect their rights, while the bill makes it very clear.
“This bill will ensure that those people who feel they’ve had their rights violated get their day in court,” Dromm said.
Best argues that permitting lawsuits by individuals and organizations claiming that “the activities of law enforcement officers have had a disparate impact” upon any group would empower judges to order the NYPD to cease using stop and frisk.
“The consequence of giving courts that power is both clear and radical. It would shift authority for making law enforcement policy from the mayor and the police commissioner to the state courts,” Best wrote.
Miller said Best’s claims are exaggerated and the bill does not prohibit officers from relying on suspect descriptions, but race and gender shouldn’t be the only reasons people are stopped. “The NYPD doesn’t have to rely on discrimination to keep New Yorkers safe,” she said. “Profiling doesn’t make anyone safer.”
“This will bankrupt the city and shut down the NYPD,” Vallone said. “If anyone thinks those two things won’t have a profound impact on public safety in New York City, they are sorely mistaken.”
According to Vallone, the costs will be exorbitant, even if the city wins every case. In addition to legal costs, police officers will have to appear in court.
According to Miller, the NYCLU thinks the bill will actually save the city money in the long run, since changing policies to avoid discriminatory practices will prevent the city from spending money settling police misconduct cases. Police action claims cost the city $185.6 million in 2011, a 35 percent increase over the previous year and the most of any city agency, according to the city comptroller’s claims report from 2011.
Moreover, the costs of the lawsuits would be borne by the plaintiffs, who would not be able to seek monetary compensation. Instead, the outcome would be changes in policies.
“We’re asking for better training, better record keeping and better supervision,” Miller said. “The bill is about overall policies and practices by the police department.”
“NYC’s success in driving crime down to record lows has been predicated on targeted policing, with data-driven strategies based upon where crime is occurring. This bill would authorize lawsuits aimed directly at the use of targeted policing, since targeting particular areas or types of criminals could frequently give rise to allegations of disparate impact on some group or groups mentioned in the bill,” Best wrote.
“This is not a video game. It’s real life and real life will get a lot more dangerous if this bill passes,” Vallone said.