Supporters of the Community Safety Act gathered outside City Hall on Aug. 13 to praise a Federal Judge’s decision that the NYPD has applied its stop-and-frisk policy in an unconstitutional manner, and to emphasize that despite the ruling it remains imperative that the City Council override Mayor Bloomberg’s vetoes of the bills that would expand the definition of racial profiling and create an independent Inspector General for the Police Department.
“The decision is a validation that our struggle has been justified since its inception,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams, a co-sponsor of the CSA. The Federal monitor ordered by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin “is narrowly focused on stop-and-frisk,” he said. “The Inspector General is not narrowly focused.”
Councilman Brad Lander, the second co-sponsor, said an IG could examine such issues as surveillance of the Muslim community, the possibly illegal enforcement of performance quotas for officers, the accuracy of crime statistics, and the adequacy of investigations into auto crashes that cause serious injury. Further, he said, there are other instances of bias-based profiling in the Police Department, including the disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos arrested on minor marijuana charges, harassment of transgendered individuals and questionable arrests of public-housing residents for trespassing. The monitor and the CSA “are complimentary,” he said.
“This ruling only reinforces the need for the Community Safety Act,” said Candis Tolliver of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It goes way beyond stop-and-frisk.” She said it would “add teeth” to the city’s current anti-profiling law, which has been criticized as vaguely worded and impossible to enforce.
The Council Members and civil-liberties advocates at the rally excoriated Mayor Bloomberg, who had reacted with outrage to Judge Scheindlin’s decision and ordered an appeal. He also has pledged to use every lever at his command to change enough votes in the Council to see his vetoes sustained. To sustain the veto of the anti-profiling bill, he would have to change only one of the 34 votes in favor of the bill, but Mr. Williams said that so far he has been unsuccessful. “The Core 34 have decided they are still sticking with the override,” he said. The override votes are scheduled for Aug. 22.
“The arrogance we saw exhibited by the Mayor yesterday was quite pathetic,” said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I would love to see how much taxpayer money has been spent on other appeals that have been defeated.” She referred to his unsuccessful battles to ban the sale of large sodas and fight off a court order promoting greater diversity in Fire Department hiring.
“Bloomberg can get on his bandwagon and say the Judge doesn’t know anything about police work,” said Councilwoman Rosie Mendez. “But she knows the Constitution.”
Judge Scheindlin issued a decision Aug. 12 that concluded the NYPD violated the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of blacks and Latinos through its unwritten policy of stopping “the right people”—young minority men in low-income neighborhoods. She said city officials had turned a blind eye to repeated complaints of such profiling. She ordered changes in training and supervision, and appointed a Federal monitor, Peter Zimroth, who was Corporation Counsel under Mayor Ed Koch, to make sure the changes are implemented.
Hours later, a red-faced Mr. Bloomberg denounced the decision as “dangerous” and said it was “made by a Judge who does not understand how policing works.”
He couched his defense of stop-and-frisk and other police tactics by reeling off statistics on declines in crime and incarceration during his term, including a claim that aggressive enforcement had saved 7,300 lives by keeping guns off the street. He did not address the Constitutional questions except to say, “We believe we have done exactly what the Constitution allows.” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said that most stops are in minority communities “because that’s where the crime is.”
Under U.S. Supreme Court decisions, officers are permitted to stop people only if they can articulate reasonable suspicion that the individuals were just involved in a crime, are involved in a crime or are about to be involved in a crime.
Councilman Robert Jackson said at the City Hall rally, “The Judge was right. The administration has turned a blind eye to racial profiling. If Mayor Bloomberg was black or Latino, he would see the light.”
Profiling means that police initiate a stop-and-frisk or other action on the basis of demographic characteristics. The anti-profiling bill expands the definition of profiling, now limited to race and ethnicity, to include age, gender, disability, sexual identity, perceived citizenship and homelessness status, and other factors. People who fear they were profiled can go to court seeking not financial damages but a judge’s order ending the policy under which they could be targeted.
Police unions have expressed concern that the bill presumes officers guilty until proven innocent; in order to get out from under a charge they would have to prove they were not discriminating, they say. The unions also feel that officers could be liable for paying legal fees and, if sued under other anti-discrimination laws, be required to pay money damages.
The Inspector General bill would create an independent commissioner working for the Department of Investigation who could study and make recommendations on police policies. Advocates of the bill point to the case of whistleblower Adrian Schoolcraft, whose allegations of manipulation of crime statistics in Brooklyn’s 81st Precinct were largely ignored by the department even after an NYPD investigation found them to be true. They note that every major city agency, and sensitive Federal departments such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have IGs.
Opponents of the bill say that it would set up a competing bureaucracy that would struggle with the Police Commissioner over who runs the department. (Mr. Bloomberg described a situation in which an officer faced with an armed man tries to reconcile conflicting mandates from the Commissioner and the IG and while thinking it through is shot dead.)