The City Council last week, as expected, passed a package of police reforms — and unions representing officers, as expected, have come out against it.
Just how all the moving parts will come together next remains to be seen.
The most talked-about provision ends qualified immunity for police officers for certain civil rights claims regarding illegal search and seizure and use of excessive force. The provision would make it easier for a plaintiff to sue an individual officer.
The Council also adopted Mayor de Blasio’s plans for police reform crafted to comply with orders from Gov. Cuomo mandating that every municipality in the state with a law enforcement agency adopt such a plan by April 1.
The mayor’s reforms include changing the disciplinary process, adding community input into the selection process for precinct commanders and broadening the powers of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
“A whole host of reforms that people have been talking about for years are now happening through this reform process,” de Blasio said in a press conference on March 25.
“And by the way, the most important point I can make, this is today with this action in the City Council, tomorrow we start the work on further police reforms, because this is work that has to be ongoing,” he added. “It never should end.”
The doctrine of qualified immunity for police officers — requiring a plaintiff to sue the government for officer misconduct instead — already is established in both New York State and federal law.
“Together, state and federal versions of qualified immunity have effectively prevented countless victims of police brutality and their families from obtaining financial damages and holding officers and the cities that employ them accountable,” the Council said in a statement issued last week.
The Council statement said the city is creating “a new local civil right.”
The Council also approved a bill that would take responsibility for investigating vehicle crashes resulting in death or serious injury from the NYPD and turn it over to the Department of Transportation.
The bill, sponsored by Transportation Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), requires the DOT to establish such an investigatory unit by January, but no details on how many inspectors would be needed or how they would be trained were in a version of the bill on the Council’s website.
Rodriguez did say in a press release that the NYPD would retain “a level of the investigative process, a concern expressed by the district attorneys.”
Yet another measure would allow the CCRB to investigate officers with a history of bias and racial profiling complaints.
Also approved was a bill by Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica), chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, that will require the NYPD to issue quarterly reports on all vehicle stops, including the number of summonses, arrests made, vehicles seized and other actions. The information would be broken down by precinct, race, ethnicity and age of the driver.
Two other controversial proposals could turn out to be wish-list items.
The Council approved resolutions to support one bill in Albany that would take the final word on officer discipline away from the police commissioner and give it to the CCRB; and one that would require new police hires to reside within the five boroughs.
Being resolutions, they are not binding on the Legislature or anyone else.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, addressed the residency question in a statement issued March 12.
“This isn’t complicated,” Lynch said. “If you want more city residents to become police officers — and remain city residents once they take the job — you need to pay them a fair market wage that allows them to maintain a foothold in the city’s ever-shrinking middle class. Any residency proposal that does not address pay is just another political prop.”
A source told the Chronicle that the state’s Division of the Budget has received 300 municipal police reform plans as of last week. Those that fail to submit a plan for review run the risk of losing state funding.
Reaction from the police unions following the Council vote on March 25 was swift.
“Absent from @NYCCouncil’s package was anything that could conceivably bring shootings and homicides back down to their recent lows,” said the PBA on Twitter. “Such reforms send a message to those who care about public safety: help is not on the way.”
The Detectives Endowment Association was equally blunt on Tuesday in the wake of a bias attack in Manhattan.
“As Detectives & our fellow cops in the @NYCPBA work tirelessly to bring this hate-filed, violent criminal to justice — NYC Council members not only offer NO help, but want to take resources away from the police. They need to start worrying about victims,” the union said.