Three weeks after the Community Safety Act was passed by the City Council, residents in Southeast Queens, and other predominately black and Latino communities across the city, are incensed that Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly are blindly defending the current police policy called stop, question, and frisk.
That is why I and my colleagues in the Queens Delegation signed a pledge, reaffirming our support to override Mayor Bloomberg’s veto and implement the Community Safety Act. None of us would have supported this legislation if we believed, or if there was any evidence, that it will cause crime to rise in New York City. But too many times we hear stories of someone being wrongly accused of a crime, or stopped, for no reason at all, which is what makes the law so important. By changing the way stop, question, and frisk is implemented, police officers will be able to effectively keep people safe, because the residents they are trying to protect will understand that they are on their side.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, from 2002 to 2011, black and Latino residents made up almost 90 percent of the stops that took place across the city, while 88 percent of all individuals stopped — more than 3.8 million people — were completely innocent of any wrongdoing. But it is not just about police officers profiling innocent people, it is the way residents are being treated when they are stopped. It is often described as a humiliating and obtrusive process, which makes residents wary of reporting a crime, because they find it hard to trust the police after experiencing being stopped and frisked.
The Community Safety Act was passed because of the mayor’s and police commissioner’s lack of understanding and respect for the very neighborhoods they are trying to protect. We need to rebuild that relationship in order for officers to effectively work in all neighborhoods, search for illegal activities and find those individuals who are breaking the law. By the City Council overriding Mayor Bloomberg’s veto, residents who have been stopped will know that they have government on their side and that their voices are being heard.
There are two bills that make up the Community Safety Act. Introduction 1080 will strengthen existing laws that ban racial profiling in the city. There are already laws that protect people from being discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, and national origin, but 1080 would expand these protections to also cover age, gender, gender identity, immigration status, disability and housing status. While residents will be able to bring a lawsuit if they feel they were discriminated against by a police officer, those are still subject to the same high standards that already exist in proving a legitimate case and plaintiffs will not be able to seek any monetary compensation, only a change to the policy.
The second piece of legislation, Introduction 1079, would create an inspector general inside the New York City Police Department. The IG would be responsible for reviewing the NYPD’s policies and practices, bringing them into conformity with every other city agency. If the IG does find that discriminatory practices are taking place, it is referred to the Department of Investigation, which already oversees more than 45 mayoral agencies and over 300 other city agencies.
Despite claims by outside groups, the IG cannot make any operational decisions, change any policies or bring disciplinary measures to individual officers. The Los Angeles Police Department has a very similar system and as crime rates have dropped in that city, their police department has not complained about the IG but instead has decided to work cooperatively with the new office. What the IG will be able to do is hold the police accountable for their actions and bring more transparency to the NYPD.
I will proudly stand with my colleagues again in favor of the Community Safety Act when the City Council votes to override Mayor Bloomberg’s veto. We need to continue to change the perception that police are allowed to be disrespectful to residents simply because of the way they look, the way they dress or the color of their skin. Instead, we need to promote policies that bring the police and residents together to truly strengthen and safeguard our communities — goals that the Community Safety Act aims to accomplish.
Leroy Comrie is New York City Councilman for the 27th District, in Southeast Queens, and the Deputy Majority Leader.