Gotham Gazette Sun, 22 Jul 2018 06:34:32 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Oversight Bill Moves Ahead, with Police Union Opposition But De Blasio Support de Blasio Jumaane Williams NYPD

Mayor de Blasio & Council Member Williams (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

A police oversight bill sponsored by City Council Member Jumaane Williams unanimously sailed through the Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations on Tuesday, and is all but certain to be voted through the full City Council on Thursday. The legislation, which increases reporting requirements about and efforts to mitigate police misconduct, has the support of the de Blasio administration, but is being opposed and criticized by the city’s largest police union.

The bill requires aggregation of public data regarding litigation in state and federal courts against the NYPD and individual officers into a report to the Comptroller, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the NYPD, and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption, after which the NYPD Inspector General must use the data to make recommendations regarding training and disciplining of officers and the department.

Police misconduct has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements. According to a report from the Comptroller’s Office, the city paid out $100.6 million in Fiscal Year 2016 in settlements related to police misconduct.

“The legislative process has been very valuable and very long,” said Williams in his opening statement at Tuesday’s committee vote, which was 4-0 (the other three members of the committee were absent). “But we received a lot of information. We got information about transparency issues. This is not about making police officers look bad. We are trying to find ways to make the department better.”

Vincent Gentile, the committee chair, echoed Williams’ sentiments, stating that there was “no negative intent” to the bill despite what opponents might say. After passing committee, the bill is set for a vote of the full 51-seat City Council on Thursday.

The legislation is seeing last minute opposition from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the main union representing uniformed police officers in the city. In written testimony submitted to the committee in advance of Tuesday’s vote, the PBA questioned the intention of the bill and stated that the increased transparency would prove harmful to the department, individual officers, and the city overall.

“The “evaluation” contemplated by this legislation is apparently designed to reach a foregone conclusion — that New York City police officers engage in widespread, willful violations New Yorkers’ rights, and that the NYPD’s leadership is incapable of performing the disciplinary and governance duties assigned to it by the City Charter — that is not supported by any available evidence,” reads the testimony. “In this effort, the legislation would do significant harm to police officers’ reputations and due process rights by substituting mere allegations of misconduct for proof of the same. Moreover, by highlighting and publicizing those allegations for the benefit of entities that profit from the harassment and denigration of police officers, this legislation would undermine the NYPD’s governance and operations and diminish public safety for the City as a whole.”

The union also alleges that the legislation is explicitly designed to hurt police officers, and to serve an ideological agenda rather than to increase accountability, which it claims is already up to par.

“Far from seeking correcting the injustices in the existing system, this legislation amounts to an indictment of the NYPD’s leadership and its disciplinary policies for failing to produce a desired or expected outcome: the punishment of as many police officers possible, as harshly as possible, regardless of the merits of the allegations they face.”

The union also argues that the aggregation of public data into a single report “serves no purpose other than as a tool of convenience for the lucrative plaintiffs’ bar that profits from the filing of specious claims of police misconduct.”

The PBA provided only written testimony; no one spoke gave oral testimony to the Council committee.

Williams, who in an interview with Gotham Gazette for a previous article stated that the department has a woeful record on transparency and accountability, had choice words for the union at the hearing.

“There have been two hearings on this bill, the PBA hasn’t come to either one,” said Williams. “They haven’t provided any testimony, except for right now. And I know many of my colleagues have received some calls from the PBA telling them to oppose this.”

“I have never seen one piece of legislation that deals with policing that the PBA has supported,” he continued. “And they very rarely, if ever, engage in any discussion around these bills. They simply say no.”

“I’ve never denied the PBA the opportunity to discuss issues with me,” he said. “I’ve never tried to deny them the opportunity to come talk before us.”

Williams has bluntly criticized the PBA before. In 2014, he accused the union of lying to the public in order to foment “mass hysteria.” He has accused the PBA of failing to engage in “productive discussion” with the Council and reform advocates regarding Williams most controversial policing-related legislation, the 2013 Community Safety Act that created the NYPD IG and new prohibitions around racial profiling. The legislation, in part a response to the NYPD’s excessive use of stop-and-frisk policing, was passed by the Council over a veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

PBA sources told Gotham Gazette that Williams wasn’t telling the whole story about the bill currently at hand. “This is a policing bill without the input of the police. They had a hearing 17 months ago and made no effort to contact us or get our feedback ever since that hearing.”

Meanwhile, the legislation has moved ahead with the support from the de Blasio administration, which indicated it helped shape the final product of a bill that has been around for several years, since Williams first introduced it.

"We're proud to have worked on this legislation with our partners in the Council as part of the Administration's broader effort to bring greater transparency to how our City is policed and continue to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect,” said Austin Finan, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Changes to the bill indicate that the administration reduced some of the reporting requirements in negotiations with the Council.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Oversight Bill Moves Ahead, with Police Union Opposition But De Blasio Support Tue, 22 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Police Misconduct Bill Set to Move Through City Council jumaane williams pthny

Council Member Jumaane Williams (photo: @pthny)

After a lengthy legislative process, a bill regarding police misconduct is likely to move through the City Council this week, beginning with a Tuesday committee vote.

The legislation (Intro. 119), introduced in 2014 by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, would require the city’s Law Department to post online, and to notify the Comptroller, the NYPD, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption of, reports covering wide-ranging information on civil actions in state and federal court regarding police misconduct, and for the NYPD Inspector General to use this information to make recommendations regarding “disciplining, training, and monitoring of police officers.” The NYPD would also be required to “study determinations by judges that an officer’s testimony is not credible.”

The information required of the Law Department includes a comprehensive list of civil actions against the NYPD or individual police officers, the type of misconduct alleged in each instance, the names of the law firms representing the plaintiff and the defendant, whether or not the matter has been resolved, and whether the city paid out a settlement to the plaintiff.

“The theme of the bill is to see if we can recognize any patterns that are emerging,” Williams said in an interview with Gotham Gazette, “just in general or with particular officers, that intervention might be beneficial before something bad happens.”

Of the long legislative process for the measure, having been stuck in committee for over three years, Williams said that issues surrounding policing require sensitivity.

“There’s always issues of transparency and how much information is too much. Are we putting too much out there in a way that makes officers look bad? That’s usually what a lot of pushback is about,” Williams said. “And we always push back, ‘No, we’re trying to make policing and officers better.’”

Beyond the aim of increasing transparency about NYPD misconduct and having more data to inform decision-making, Williams also hopes that the bill itself could reduce police misconduct and “bad policing.” The NYPD has faced significant criticism for police misconduct that has led to deaths of civilians, excessive street stops (and frisks), hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements, and other negative outcomes. Officers involved in misconduct are often not held accountable to standards that many, like Williams, believe to be just.

Although the data in question is public, it is not aggregated into a report, and therefore has not been analyzed by the NYPD, City Hall, or watchdogs in order to draw conclusions for improving the department, both in terms of departmental and officer accountability, and the performance of NYPD programs and initiatives.

The legislation has been the subject of two hearings since its introduction: the first in May 2014, and the second in June 2016. Both times, it was laid over in committee without a vote. The New York City Bar Association and the Legal Aid Society have voiced support for the legislation, and its current iteration, Intro 119-D, has nine cosponsors in addition to Williams. When the bill was put on the calendar for a committee hearing this week, Gotham Gazette reached Williams for comment about the status of the bill and its apparent imminent passage.

Assuming it passes through the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, the bill will likely be voted through the full City Council on Thursday. Unlike many others, it may not be approved unanimously by the 51-seat Council that currently includes 47 Democrats, three Republicans, and vacancy.

Big settlements paid by the city often make waves. In January, a settlement was reached for the city to pay $75 million to those who were improperly issued summonses for minor offenses in order to fulfill alleged arrest quotas. The city was unable to prove probable cause in these issuances. The NYPD has consistently denied that it utilizes arrest quotas, though numerous former police officers have gone on the record to state that the department has indeed used quotas.

Smaller settlements, however, also drain the city’s finances and clog the court system. Further, a lack of transparency in terms of civil action and litigation against the department and individual officers can prevent the introduction of necessary reforms.

“Since individual damage claims are in some measure a reflection of the NYPD’s relationship to the community, the report could provide one measure of the effectiveness of NYPD’s management in achieving its goal of improving its relationship with communities across our City,” said William Gibney, director of the Legal Aid Society's Criminal Practice Special Litigation Unit, in 2014 testimony to the Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations. “It could help managers evaluate risk as to whether a new program or an existing practice, e.g., police vehicle pursuit, is working well or whether it is unnecessarily costing the City in terms of money paid in damages claims and relationships with the impacted communities. It could help determine whether certain precincts or certain officers need closer supervision or retraining.”

According to a report from the office of city Comptroller Scott Stringer, the city paid out $100.6 million in Fiscal Year 2016 related to tort litigation against police misconduct, about equal to the amount paid out for medical malpractice claims ($101.1 million). Civil rights claims made up $158 million in city settlements.

Over the past several years, the City Council and the NYPD have oftne disagreed over proposed legislation, though there have been numerous compromises reached, and the Council spearheaded the addition of what wound up being 1,300 officers to the force through a budget deal with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Williams has been a noted critic of the de Blasio administration on police accountability, stating at a Thursday press conference at City Hall that the current administration was “worse than the Bloomberg administration” and that he had not decided on whether he would endorse de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, for reelection.

Williams told Gotham Gazette that policing reform and police accountability and transparency are two separate things, and that the de Blasio administration has had some significant victories in the realm of police reform, but that accountability and transparency were severely lacking.

“I think the NYPD has done more on reform than they get credit for,” he said. “And that’s because on police accountability and transparency, that’s just not the case. Just isn’t true.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Police Misconduct Bill Set to Move Through City Council Sun, 20 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000