Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1528 Thu, 15 Nov 2018 15:40:27 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) The Right to Know is Law – Will the NYPD Abide by It? http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8067-the-right-to-know-is-law-will-the-nypd-abide-by-it http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8067-the-right-to-know-is-law-will-the-nypd-abide-by-it NYPD officers

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


New York City recently took an important step toward police reform. The long-anticipated Right To Know Act has officially gone into effect, with important provisions dictating police-civilian encounters. The Act includes critical laws that will help end unconstitutional searches and require that police officers both identify themselves and provide the reason for an encounter – even leaving a business card in certain interactions.

After years of fighting for these reforms, we can start to rebuild the broken trust New Yorkers have in the NYPD by bringing more transparency and accountability to everyday interactions. But to do this, we need full and immediate cooperation from the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office.

The consent to search law will change the way certain police searches are conducted to help end unconstitutional searches. The new law requires that when there is no legal justification for a personal, home, or vehicle search (like a warrant or probable cause), NYPD officers must explain to the person they would like to search that they have a right to refuse the search, and their consent to the search has to be documented.

The NYPD identification law will require officers to provide basic information to the person they’re interacting with in writing, including the officer’s name, rank, command, and a phone number to be able to submit complaints or comments if no arrest is made, as well as a specific reason for the interaction. Interactions that are covered by the law include street stops, home searches, most roadblock and checkpoints, and questioning of crime survivors and witnesses.

Many people reading this might assume that such basic information provision is already a part of our policing system. But these steps were previously absent from law, which has resulted in serious problems.

This legislation is a vital part of restoring accountability and transparency in the NYPD, thus keeping communities, especially communities of color, safe from the harmful and abusive policing they are subjected to on a regular basis.

The Right To Know Act is a milestone not only for its content, but for also for its origins. This legislation started with community members impacted by police abuses and is the result of action from more than 200 organizations involved in Communities United for Police Reform (CPR). The charge in the City Council was led fearlessly by many Council members who also felt that the problem was personal to all New Yorkers.

Our advocacy was inspired by those who have been devastated by the status quo. Mothers like Constance Malcolm and Gwen Carr, who lost their children to police violence, gave us hope in their willingness to demand action. Now, children coming home from school will know that the police are not permitted to scare them, like by forcing them to open their bookbags and display the contents without reason.

But too often our work faced significant pushback from those most critical to our success, including our mayor, who has promised time and again to improve safety and police-community relations, and leaders of the NYPD. The Mayor’s Office scheduled a hearing for the Right To Know Act on the evening that Erica Garner was buried – knowing full well that many critical advocates wouldn’t be able to attend.

The NYPD has missed countless opportunities to engage with CPR on how the Act would be implemented – in fact the department didn’t meet with us until last month, violating the law’s provision that community be consulted in advance of creating guidance and implementation. It has since refused to make any of the necessary changes to its internal guidance to officers that would bring them in compliance with the Right To Know Act and help ensure our communities’ rights are protected. Department leaders then turned around and said that we had “unprecedented” access to materials, and that they had already consulted with the community. This was untrue. And as the bill went into law, a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association spokesperson even referred to reform as a “burden” on officers.

Those kinds of comments undermine the gravity of this law and hardly inspire confidence in the NYPD’s willingness to honor and uphold its effective implementation. NYPD materials still lack clear, coherent language on some of the details required for police to implement the law. And there is mounting evidence that the NYPD is hardly trying to implement the bill in its entirety. It’s crucial that the NYPD and Mayor de Blasio focus on implementing and enforcing the Right to Know Act properly, and provide guidance and materials needed to ensure that NYPD officers follow these new laws. But regardless of their actions, CPR is prepared to educate citizens on their right to know in order to ensure that the NYPD does not violate or obstruct that right.

While the law going into effect is certainly something to celebrate, we clearly have much more work to do. The final version of the police identification bill included numerous carve-outs and exclusions that were universally opposed by the Right to Know Act coalition of more than 200 organizations. This legislation is one step of many in the path to true safety and justice for all New Yorkers. Passing reform-oriented legislation is crucial, but we must also critically examine and abolish harmful and unjust legislation. For instance, laws like ‘50A,’ which continues to protect the officers who killed Eric Garner, need to be repealed to achieve the goal of full transparency.

Today, the Right To Know Act is a symbol of the work we have done, but also of how far we still have to go. We are grateful to the community and the City Council, to New Yorkers for raising their voices, and to those who will continue to speak out against unnecessarily harsh policing. Together, we’ve made history. Let’s continue to do so.

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Monifa Bandele is a member of the steering committee for Communities United for Police Reform. She is also Senior Vice President and Chief Partnership & Equity Officer at MomsRising. On Twitter @monifabandele.

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The Right to Know is Law – Will the NYPD Abide by It? Mon, 12 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Questions Linger as Right to Know Act Goes Into Effect http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8004-questions-linger-as-right-to-know-act-goes-into-effect http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8004-questions-linger-as-right-to-know-act-goes-into-effect mayorsoffice gradu

(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The Right to Know Act, a significant piece of police reform legislation passed by the City Council last December, is set to go into effect Friday and advocates who hoped it would transform street interactions between New Yorkers and police officers are worried that the NYPD may not fully comply with the new law.

The Right to Know Act comprises two laws with requirements for how officers conduct themselves in street stops. The first, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, mandates that officers identify themselves when questioning individuals, provide a valid reason for doing so, and provide a business card with their name and rank to the individual. The second law, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a Brooklyn Democrat, requires officers with no probable cause to obtain verbal consent before searching an individual or their property while informing people of their right to refuse a search. The police department will also have to compile and report data on the number of such encounters.

Developed as a response to the NYPD’s controversial use of stop-and-frisk policing, the Right to Know legislation travelled a bumpy years-long road to passage. In 2016, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito refused to allow the bills to come to a vote and instead struck a deal with the NYPD to implement certain provisions administratively. The move was protested by criminal justice advocates who believed Mark-Viverito had kowtowed to opposition by the police department and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Then, in 2017, when the two bills were on the verge of being approved, Torres’ bill was amended in ways that police reform advocates said diluted and betrayed its original intent by removing certain categories of interactions from its jurisdiction. The CPR coalition pulled its support for that bill before it passed, as did some of the Council Members who co-sponsored it. Nonetheless, the enactment of the legislative package was mostly celebrated as a victory for criminal justice reform efforts in the city.

Advocates and the bill sponsors have since been eagerly awaiting and preparing for the two laws to go into effect on Friday, though there have been questions raised about the NYPD’s readiness to change its ways -- concerns the NYPD is pushing back against, promising full compliance with the new laws and asserting its outreach efforts as “unprecedented.”

“We’re gearing up to see how the NYPD implements the reforms mandated in the law,” said Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel in the advocacy department at the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a phone interview on Tuesday. NYCLU is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition, which spearheaded advocacy for the Right to Know bills for years. Sisitzky said his organization has been conducting internal education sessions about the two laws as they await its implementation.

But he noted that the NYPD has failed to significantly engage with advocates or solicit enough community input on changing its policies to adhere to the laws, which was explicitly required by Reynoso’s bill.

“That consultation didn’t happen in any meaningful way,” Sisitzky said. “The NYPD really decided to not follow the spirit and requirements of the law and consult with communities despite these communities being involved in this for the last five years.” He said it was a “missed opportunity” to reimagine policing tactics and that more so than other reforms related to greater reporting on enforcement or the creation of outside monitors, its success depends on how it is executed on the ground. “This was an easy chance for them to work with communities to create new policies,” he said.

On Wednesday, Joo-Hyun Kang, director of CPR, told the New York Daily News that the coalition had only one meeting with the NYPD in September and that it’s recommendations were not taken into account in new guidance issued to officers. Drafted guidance in the NYPD patrol guide, which dictates officer conduct and protocols, that was seen by Kang seemed to fall short of the requirements in the law, the News reported, and Kang worried that officers were not being properly trained.

Council Member Reynoso echoed the sentiments of the advocates. On Wednesday morning, Reynoso visited the offices of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which handles complaints of NYPD officer misconduct and abuse of power, to speak with more than 60 CCRB staffers about the Right to Know Act, what inspired it and how it will improve policing, particularly communities of color, where the overuse of stop-and-frisk was damaging to police-community relations and ruled unconstitutional by a judge.

Emphasizing the need for the Right to Know Act, Reynoso recounted his own personal experience with stop-and-frisk from his high school days, when he and his cousins were abruptly stopped and searched by police officers as they walked down the street. “That experience was very life-changing for me. I felt like I lost all dignity,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he noted that the NYPD should have been more collaborative as they prepare to adapt to the new laws. “I think the NYPD does want to follow through with the bills,” he said, while conceding that they have “done a very poor job” of communicating with reform advocates. “While I do believe that they haven’t done enough at this moment to engage communities the way they’re supposed to by law, moving forward I do feel comfortable that they’ll be able to engage,” he said. “But, because we’ve lost all this time, without communicating to the advocates, there are some things that they could have done better or might have overlooked that could have been addressed before implementation. Now we have to wait till after implementation to address a lot of these issues.”

Reynoso stressed that the new laws would be a valuable tool in the pockets of public defenders and New Yorkers who feel that their civil rights have been violated, and that the department’s compliance would also be ensured by the full implementation of its body camera program. De Blasio announced in January that all patrol officers would be outfitted with cameras by the end of the year.

There are concerns, however, about how closely officers will follow the new laws. “Unfortunately, the NYPD doesn’t have the best track record complying with legal mandates,” NYCLU’s Sisitzky said. The NYPD has in recent months come under fire for refusing to abide by a City Council law mandating disclosure of data on subway fare evasion arrests. And de Blasio has repeatedly chosen to defer to the department’s leadership, which cited public safety concerns, instead of ordering compliance.

Asked if the NYPD could be trusted to follow the Right to Know, which the department fought, and if the mayor could be relied upon to enforce it, Reynoso seemed to harbor some doubts. “I absolutely believe that the mayor should be on the front lines...but the mayor has shown that he cares deeply about his relationship with the NYPD.” Even when certain pieces of police reform legislation are justified, Reynoso said, “[The mayor] would err on the side of the police [rather] than the people of the City of New York.”

A spokesperson for the mayor did not respond to a request for comment. An NYPD spokesperson, asked about the concerns expressed by advocates, said in a statement, “The NYPD will fully comply with the Right to Know Act when it takes effect this Friday. As the Department developed its policies, it heard numerous recommendations from the advocacy community through discussions with the Federal Monitor. The Department also provided advocates unprecedented access to NYPD policies, forms, and trainings prior to the law taking effect. And the NYPD will of course continue to talk to advocates to fine tune the policy as it is implemented and we can assess what’s working and what might be improved.”

Advocates and the City Council say they will be keeping an eagle eye on the police adherence. “The City Council is proud of its efforts in this area and we will be watching the roll out to ensure the Right To Know is being followed,” said Jennifer Fermino, City Council communications director, in a statement.

On Thursday afternoon, the CPR coalition rallied with several City Council Members outside City Hall, celebrating the Right to Know Act but also airing their complaints about the NYPD's lacklustre engagement and promising to hold the department and the de Blasio administration accountable. "And, on Friday morning, Reynoso and members of the CCRB will hit the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx to inform New Yorkers about their new rights under the Act.

“I think [the new laws] offer New Yorkers a real sense of control and knowledge over their encounters with the police department,” said Jonathan Darche, CCRB executive director, in a phone interview. “And we’ve been working hard with the department in order to make sure that we’re on the same page with them about how they are training members of service so that we can hold members accountable to the standard that is being demanded of them by the department.”

“I’m excited that it’s coming to fruition,” Council Member Torres said outside City Hall on Wednesday as he rushed to attend a Wednesday meeting of the full Council.

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Questions Linger as Right to Know Act Goes Into Effect Thu, 18 Oct 2018 17:21:15 +0000
Congratulations and Consternation as City Council Ends Term http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7379-congratulations-and-consternation-as-city-council-ends-term http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7379-congratulations-and-consternation-as-city-council-ends-term mmv flag alatriste

Council Speaker Melisasa Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste, June 2015)


The New York City Council concluded its four-year term on Tuesday with a marathon legislative blitz, passing 38 new bills at its last full-body meeting. The Council has seen more new legislation passed in the last four years than any other Council class seated before it, with a total of 714 bills approved (in comparison, the final full-body meeting under the previous speaker, Christine Quinn, the Council passed 29 bills in December, 2013).

Under the leadership of outgoing Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council has taken an active, interventionist approach and has approved sweeping legislation to benefit the city’s most vulnerable and poorest populations. Broad packages of criminal justice reforms, immigrant protections, tenant and consumer rights laws have been enacted alongside more pedantic concerns, dominated by a progressive caucus that has driven large parts of the Council’s policy priorities.

The Council has made civil penalties for low-level offenses in order to prevent criminal records in as many instances as possible, and provided free legal services for low-income tenants in housing court. It created a municipal identification program with an eye toward benefitting undocumented immigrants. It passed new land use regulations to mandate the creation of affordable housing when the city grants more density to a developer, among many more policies that have reshaped the city’s landscape.

Tuesday’s agenda carried much of the same. The 38 bills included two significant, and controversial, police reform bills, collectively called the Right to Know Act. One of the two bills saw an unusually high number of “no” votes for a body that has not brought legislation to the floor that has been voted down (nor has the Council had a bill it passed vetoed by Mayor Bill de Blasio).

The Council on Tuesday also made technical changes to the city’s Human Rights Law, mandated that the Department of Education publish an annual report on students in temporary housing, and required the Department of Small Business Services to create a resource guide for subcontractors. Bills dealing with traffic violations, renewable energy use, noise complaints, and a census of vacant city properties were also approved, among others.

“We turned a speaker-driven institution into one where members have had a real say in things,” said Mark-Viverito from the Council floor, triumphantly touting her record as speaker and recounting her career. “Even when we didn’t always agree, we always listened.”

What was at times a celebratory occasion, however, had a number of tense and bittersweet moments. Whoops and applause did ring out to the full chamber, as Mark-Viverito spoke for the last time from the floor, thanking her colleagues who applauded her in return. But the members also faced the necessity of bidding her farewell, along with 10 other outgoing members who are either term-limited or stepping down. “I don’t have regrets,” Mark-Viverito told her Council cohort, emphasizing the productive legislative session that she led. “And we should all be proud of that because we’re making the city a better city for all New Yorkers, for every single New Yorker who oftentimes feels invisible or feels disrespected or disenfranchised.”

The perfunctory congratulations and backpatting would only last so long. In a legislative body known for few disagreements in the last four years, one particular bill on the agenda, Intro. 182 sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres as part of the Right to Know Act, led to one of the most concerted debates and eventually the most divided vote the body has seen in this four-year session.

The bill, which passed 27-20 with three abstentions, requires NYPD officers in certain types of street encounters to proactively identify themselves and to provide a business card listing their rank and command. Last-minute changes to the bill prompted consternation from police reform advocates, who felt it had been watered down at the behest of the NYPD and urged members to oppose it, while vehemently criticizing Torres. The final version did not include the most common street stops or any car stops.

Many of Torres’ colleagues praised his efforts to negotiate the bill and came to his defense, while others subsequently criticized the final product that was voted on. Numerous Council members, including Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams, Donovan Richards, and Robert Cornegy, as well as many other Council members of color who had been sponsors of the bill, pulled their support. (The companion legislation, Intro. 541 sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, which requires police officers to obtain consent to conduct a search where there is no probably cause, passed 37-13.)

At one point, Williams spoke beyond his allotted time against Torres’ bill and his microphone was cut off as Speaker Mark-Viverito urged the body to move on. Council Member Rosie Mendez, who was next to speak, offered to yield her two minutes to Williams but Public Advocate Letitia James, overseeing the proceedings, denied the request saying the Council rules did not allow it. A frustrated Williams continued to talk before relenting. “It’s a sham and it’s a shame,” he said.

When it was finally his opportunity to speak, Torres, who faced much of the advocates’ wrath, staunchly defended the final legislation he put forward. “It is historic, it is unprecedented, it is real reform in the truest sense of the word,” he said, seeking to dispel what he said was disinformation from advocates about the effects of the bill, insisting that it lays a strong foundation for progress and preempting what he believes will be a more conservative Council come January. “I stand by what I have chosen to do, even if it means standing alone,” he said, “even if it means straining and severing political relationships, even if it means I am no longer beloved in progressive circles, even if it means I have no future in progressive politics.”

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Congratulations and Consternation as City Council Ends Term Tue, 19 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Right to Know Act: Progress and Disappointment http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7380-right-to-know-act-progress-and-disappointment http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7380-right-to-know-act-progress-and-disappointment right to know rally crop


On Tuesday, the New York City Council passed two police reform bills. One marks a vital step toward police reform and accountability. The other takes our city in the wrong direction.

First the good news: a consent to search bill, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, passed with support from over 200 community organizations, including the families of New Yorkers killed by police, and organizations led by homeless, LGBTQ, undocumented, and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, and black and Latino youth. The bill will require the NYPD to create a policy directive that mandates that police officers notify New Yorkers of their right to refuse a search if the officer does not have probable cause to search them.

The NYPD will also have to document proof of consent, and ensure translation if necessary, so all New Yorkers comprehend it is their constitutional right to refuse searches without probable cause. It is a common sense and long overdue reform that will enhance accountability measures and increase protections for New Yorkers during interactions with officers.

The second bill, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, was opposed by over 200 community organizations, all five public defender offices, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, the National Latino Officers Association, and the Grand Council of Guardians. This legislation, known as the police identification bill, will in some situations require police officers to provide New Yorkers with a business card identifying the officer and an explanation for the stop.

As with consent to search, community members had pushed for such legislation for years. But inexplicably, because of last-minute changes, the final bill intentionally excludes traffic stops as well as the majority of non-arrest street encounters with police officers. It also includes a broad exception that significantly limits the NYPD’s responsibility to provide New Yorkers with an explanation for why they are being stopped.

Here’s what the holes in the final police identification bill mean in practice. If a young person is coming home from school and an officer asks him, “what are you doing?” or “where are you going?” or has his hand on his gun when he commands, “show me your ID,” that officer will not be required to provide a card identifying him- or her-self after the encounter.

If multiple officers corner a young person in front of her building and begin asking similar questions, they will not be required to provide identification after the interaction. If an officer stops a transgender woman and wants to know “why are you on this block,” or “what are you doing tonight,” this law will not ensure they know who is stopping them and why they are being stopped.

These everyday encounters for many young black, Latino, and transgender New Yorkers, which are just as likely as any other police interaction to lead to misconduct, harassment, or even abuse by officers, have been carved out of the bill without sufficient explanation.

President Obama’s 21st Century Task Force On Policing recommended law enforcement agencies require officers to identify themselves by their full name, rank, and command in writing to individuals they have stopped and provide an explanation for the stop. This past summer, the city of Albany, New York passed a bill requiring just that from their police officers.

New York City is not setting a baseline for future police reform. The baseline has already been set. By passing a bill that creates exceptions for thousands of stops and interactions with police officers, New York is merely confirming the NYPD sets police legislation and setting a weak precedent for other localities.

The Right to Know Act originated from the experiences of New Yorkers most impacted by police misconduct and abuse, including the families of those killed by police officers, and black and Latino youth from Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and East New York who have led our organizing efforts. No one—not Council Member Torres, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio, or NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill—has offered these young people any explanation for excluding common stops and interactions they are forced to navigate on a daily basis. If New York City is committed to “neighborhood policing,” someone should explain why those neighborhood cops shouldn’t simply hand over a business card and offer an explanation after stopping a New Yorker.

It has been over three years since the world watched an NYPD officer choke the last breath out of Eric Garner’s body on a Staten Island sidewalk. Now, this City Council has passed the only bills since that fateful day that address transparency, accountability, and protections for New Yorkers during interactions with the NYPD. It’s good news for all city residents that the Council passed a strong consent to search bill. But it’s deeply unfortunate that the Council allowed the NYPD to squeeze through a gutted version of police identification legislation that comes up short of the necessary reform that so many New Yorkers have spent the last five years demanding.

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Kesi Foster is a lead organizer with Make the Road New York, which a member of the Steering Committee of Communities United for Police Reform. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Right to Know Act: Progress and Disappointment Tue, 19 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
The Right to Know Act and the City Council Speaker Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7310-the-right-to-know-act-and-the-council-speaker-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7310-the-right-to-know-act-and-the-council-speaker-race jumaane williams rtkar

Jumaane Williams at a Right to Know Act rally (Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


In less than two months, the current class of the New York City Council ends its term, and eight incumbents who won reelection on Tuesday are running to lead the 51-member legislative body as its next speaker. It is an internal race influenced by county party affiliates, labor unions, Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself newly reelected, and others.

As the clock ticks on this term and the speakership of Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally who is term-limited out of office, a particular package of controversial legislation offers an especially delicate situation for Mark-Viverito, de Blasio, and the speaker candidates, most notably the one, Ritchie Torres, who is a prime sponsor of the bills.

Each of the eight speaker candidates -- Council Members Torres, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer, Robert Cornegy, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams -- is a co-sponsor on the two police reform bills, collectively called the Right to Know Act, which puts them at odds with the mayor, who has ardently opposed the legislation, and with Mark-Viverito, who has refused to allow it to come to a vote. Instead, Mark-Viverito and the NYPD announced an agreement on administrative changes whereby the police department agreed to implement pieces of the bills, but without the power of law.

As the Council readies for an expected end-of-term legislative blitz, supporters of the bills from inside and outside the Council are pushing for passage, potentially setting up the next speaker, the second-most powerful elected official in the city, to take office having already courted conflict with the mayor and potentially establishing a new dynamic between the heads of the executive and legislative branches of city government. It puts Torres in a particularly awkward position of having to possibly decide whether to buck advocates and co-sponsors or the mayor and the speaker and those members who would rather not have to vote on the measure.

De Blasio has yet to use a veto during his four years as mayor, with virtually every contentious piece of legislation either being negotiated to agreement between the mayor and the Council or scuttled.

The bills in question include Intro. 182, sponsored by Council Member Torres, putting him in unique position among the speaker candidates, which requires police officers to identify themselves during a street stop, and Intro. 541, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, mandating that officers inform individuals of their right to refuse consent to a search in cases that it is required and to provide audio or written proof if an individual consents to a search. Unsurprisingly, the legislation was met with strong resistance from the NYPD, whose leadership has often been critical of the City Council’s attempts to legislate its practices and believes the bills would hamper officers’ abilities to do their jobs.

In July last year, Mark-Viverito struck a compromise with the police department to implement certain provisions of the bills, foregoing a vote, despite the fact that the bills had and continue to have support from a majority of the Council. Police reform advocates were incensed by what they saw as a backroom deal and questioned the speaker’s willingness to stand up to de Blasio.

Six of the eight speaker candidates -- Johnson and Cornegy did not respond to requests for comment for this article -- said the speaker’s race would not affect their support for the Right to Know Act and that the legislation would likely not affect the speaker’s race. But they also agreed that any speaker must demonstrate their independence from the mayor, and supporting these police reforms can do just that.

“I can assure you that the speaker’s race has no bearing on how I will conduct myself on the subject of the Right to Know,” said Torres, in a phone interview. “One has nothing to do with the other.” Torres and Reynoso have held off on using a discharge through committee, a procedural tool that would allow them to bypass a committee vote and bring their bills directly to the floor of the Council, despite the urging of police reform advocacy groups such as Communities United for Police Reform (CPR).

“I never shy away from challenging authority but for me it’s more about finding the right solution,” Torres said, insisting that he would rather negotiate with the police department to amend the bills and get them passed. “There’s greater value in passing legislation with the buy-in of an agency than doing so in the face of hysterical opposition. In the end, if one side refuses to negotiate in good faith, then of course I reserve the right to discharge and I have no hesitation about exercising that right. But I will do so only when necessary.”

When asked if, in the context of Right to Know, Speaker Mark-Viverito had been sufficiently independent of the mayor and whether the next speaker should be more independent, Torres bluntly said, “‘No’ to your first question and ‘yes’ to your second question.”

The other speaker candidates, even as they stood for the virtues of the Right to Know Act, did not criticize Mark-Viverito, who has been noncommittal on whether the two bills are moving closer to a vote. She has insisted that the Council is continuing internal conversations with the bill sponsors and the NYPD, and that the body has been assessing the implementation of the administrative changes agreed to last year. “We have been in dialogue, very recent dialogue with advocates, with the police department, with the sponsors of the bill,” she said at a recent news conference. “There’s been a lot of conversation, so we’re still going through our process.”

Asked if she’d encourage Torres and Reynoso to exercise their prerogative to discharge the bills, she simply said, “We’re going through the process with those bills.”

When asked repeatedly at that press conference what specifically she and the Council were doing to monitor the administrative implementation, Mark-Viverito gave vague answers about ongoing conversations.

Politico New York reported last week that supporters of the bills are hoping to bring them to a vote by November 16, since a vote after that would leave insufficient time to override a veto by the mayor. Police reform groups have also called on the bill sponsors, Torres and Reynoso, to ensure passage or discharge the bills through committee by that deadline.

“Our primary concern with the [next] speaker is really making sure that they’re going to be a person who supports these reforms and future reforms and make sure that New Yorkers are having interactions with police that make sense and don’t violate their rights,” said Anthonine Pierre, deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a nonprofit that is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition. Advocates have been supportive of Torres and Reynoso, but appear to be reaching a point of frustration.

As was the case with police reform advocates, many on the Council were disappointed by the speaker’s decision to strike a bargain with the NYPD in lieu of a legislative solution. But, besides Torres, most other speaker candidates defended Mark-Viverito’s record of being independent, while yet others spoke of how they would handle the speakership themselves.

Council Member Levine believes the bills will hardly play a role in the speaker race as he expects they’ll be resolved before the end of the year. “I believe that there will be a way for the bills to move forward with buy-in from the people that will be implementing it, the [police department], and that that will be settled before we have a new speaker,” he said in a phone interview.  

He defended Mark-Viverito’s leadership over the process involving the Right to Know. “I think she should be given credit for working very very hard on this issue, both on the policy and legislative front,” Levine said.

He emphasized that the Council has been independent of the mayor, pushing him on issues such as funding for 1,300 new police officers and free legal assistance in housing court, which he championed. And he noted that the speaker will be chosen only by the 51 members of the Council. “It’s just so important that the Council emerge as a totally independent body, a co-equal branch of government, and that’s definitely my vision for the speakership,” he said.

Council Member Rodriguez hopes to see movement on the bills but would only comment on “who I would be as speaker,” briefly mentioning that he would expand the oversight role of committee chairs. “The speaker should be a person that defends the independent voice of the Council,” he said.

Council Member Van Bramer said the speaker race “is an opportunity to elevate the conversation” around Right to Know, which he said should pass on its merits regardless of the race. He said he would move the bills to a vote, given he is elected speaker, if they do not pass this year. “I think that it’s really important that the speaker be a counter-balance to the mayor,” he said. “I think the body is looking for an independent and forceful speaker who’s gonna be able to represent the members and represent the interests of the members and I think I’ve demonstrated in the past that while we certainly work together, when I disagree with the mayor, I’m not afraid to disagree with the mayor and disagree strongly.”

Council Member Williams spoke briefly with Gotham Gazette at City Hall and only said that he was following the lead of the Right to Know sponsors. “I continue to support it, I hope it gets passed,” he said.

Council Member Richards said Right to Know is part of a criminal justice reform discussion that would continue over the next four years, no matter who becomes the Council’s leader. “You know even as Melissa leaves, as we continue to move forward over the next four years, this issue does not die,” he said. “The need for reform is gonna be something continuous.”

He also stressed that Right to Know has not languished because of a lack of independence either by the speaker or the Council. “I think it’s a question of trying to shape and get something done. And the Council has the ability to pass legislation whether the mayor supports it or not, but we also want to make sure that we’re doing it in a responsible fashion and we’re trying to reach a medium that is doable,” Richards said, “to make sure that, one, our community is getting the greatest benefit of transparency, but secondly also in a way that ensures that we’re not also going to harm officers’ ability to do their job as well.”

Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration on criminal justice issues, is also a co-sponsor of the Right to Know Act which, he said, “is a good lens through which to evaluate the speaker candidates,” and their ability to stand up to the mayor.

“The issue of are you for or against the Right to Know Act isn’t a factor in the speaker’s race because everybody’s for it,” he said. “What is an issue is whether or not you as a speaker will allow bills that make you or the administration uncomfortable come to the floor for a vote. That is an important test of the speaker candidates and I think it is the main issue that each speaker candidate has to address because philosophically, ideologically, substantively there’s not much of a difference among the eight of them in terms of what they stand for.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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The Right to Know Act and the City Council Speaker Race Wed, 08 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Bill de Blasio’s Police Accountability Problem http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6690-bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6690-bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem de blasio nypd headquarters

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign account recently posted a Twitter message touting the NYPD’s neighborhood policing initiative. “New York City is proving to the rest of the country that respectful, compassionate neighborhood policing drives down crime & makes us safer,” the tweet from @BilldeBlasio read.

In a response symbolic of a problem de Blasio is facing as he heads into his re-election year, Lumumba Bandele tweeted his response to de Blasio: “You & #NYPD are in no position to talk about respect & compassion.” Bandele then cited the fact that the police officers who killed Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teenager shot to death in 2012, and “others,” likely a reference including Eric Garner, are still employed by the city.

Bandele identifies himself on Twitter as an organizer, writer, producer, and professor from Bedford-Stuyvesant. His mention of Ramarley Graham came as there has been increased attention from police reform activists to pressure de Blasio to proceed with an NYPD trial for Officer Richard Haste and the others involved in Graham’s death. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill recently announced that such a trial was likely to begin in early 2017.

The new year, de Blasio’s fourth as mayor, is also expected to see movement regarding accountability for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Garner’s 2014 death during an attempted arrest. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014, and the federal Department of Justice has been investigating his actions, which, according to de Blasio and the NYPD, has kept the city from moving ahead with any of its own disciplinary procedure.

As the mayor kicks off his re-election campaign, police reform activists, including some elected officials, are frustrated with de Blasio for what they see as a failure to live up to his 2013 promise as a police reformer, especially with regard to increasing accountability at the NYPD. While these two high-profile cases may soon see developments, advocates say that punishment for officers takes far too long and is far too soft, and that on holding officers accountable for inappropriate or illegal behavior, the mayor has done nothing systemic to change NYPD culture.

For his part, de Blasio argues that he has been the reformer he said he would be, that he has overseen major changes to policing in New York City while both crime and arrests have declined. De Blasio, a Democrat, has been battling perceptions that he is "anti-cop" and would be soft on crime since his 2013 campaign. While he has mostly assuaged the latter, the former persists in some corners, perhaps contibuting to a lack of action in addressing accountabiity, even as, on the other side of the equation, reformers believe he has not been tough enough on badly-behaving officers.

Some reform advocates do give de Blasio credit for following through on elements of his campaign rhetoric, which had a significant focus on policing as part of his larger call for greater equity. But, they are quick to note that de Blasio’s efforts have not extended into essential areas of transparency and accountability.

City Council Member Jumaane Williams and members of Communities United for Police Reform, for example, acknowledge that de Blasio has overseen certain tactical changes at the NYPD, like instituting a new training regime focused on de-escalation, continuing to reduce street stops, and a more lenient approach to marijuana arrests. But, they believe that it amounts to little if it is not accompanied by major changes to how police officers are dealt with when they abuse their power, especially around excessive use of force.

Real culture change, they say, requires both front- and back-end reform -- new training, strategies, and directives, as well as beefed up oversight and increased transparency and accountability. At the same time de Blasio has been criticized for doing little on officer accountability, after decades of doing so the NYPD stopped making public a weekly update on officer disciplinary actions, citing their realization that they had been violating a state law.

When de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill held an early December press conference to announce low crime in the city, Communities United put out a press release saying, “As Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill gave briefing on crime data from November, they continued to ignore alleged abuses and misconduct during month.” The release linked to more than two dozen news articles about alleged police abuses or a lack of transparency into the NYPD.

“There’s a lot of talk about building relationships and building trust between communities and police,” but “our position is, hold up, in order for us to have trust, we need greater accountability,” said Monifa Bandele, a vice president at Moms Rising, a national organization that in New York is part of Communities United for Police Reform. Bandele spoke with Gotham Gazette after CPR held a mid-December press conference calling for new measures to improve transparency and accountability in the NYPD. Police officers regularly violate people’s rights, she said, but “nothing seems to come of it.”

CPR and a majority of City Council members want to see the Right to Know Act passed. The legislation would require police officers to provide more information to people they are stopping on the street, including identification. Despite majority support, the Right to Know Act has stalled in the City Council because de Blasio does not support it, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not allowed it to come to a vote, and other Council members have been unwilling to move it to a vote without the speaker’s blessing. Mark-Viverito did announce a compromise with the NYPD to institute elements of the legislation through NYPD training and the patrol guide.

Council Member Williams is one sponsor of the Right to Know Act, and while he wants to see more from de Blasio and the NYPD, he also says that there has been progress. In an interview, Williams said that there probably hasn’t been enough credit given to de Blasio for some of the change, but that that is a result of other failings.

“It’s very real that when it comes to transparency and accountability we’re no better than any other city in this nation and that’s a problem, we should be leading this effort,” Williams said.

“One of the best ways to change behaviors is to make sure people feel there’s accountability for that behavior,” said Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat. “So those are the type of things that I think people have yet to see and they’re very concerned about it and it’s what he campaigned on so I think people have an expectation to see it.”

Williams said he’s pleased about neighborhood policing, street stops continuing to decrease, and marijuana arrests being down, but that the city still needs to look at the racial breakdown, the percentages by demographic group, of some of the stops and arrest data. It is a sentiment echoed by leaders from Communities United for Police Reform, an umbrella group, as well as PROP, the Police Reform Organizing Project, which monitors arrest data and court proceedings. These activists say that it is good that a number of metrics are trending downward overall, but that disproportionate racial disparities persist on everything from street stops to summonses and arrests for all types of low-level crimes.

“I would love to hear a coherent answer on that,” Williams said when asked why he thinks de Blasio hasn’t been more aggressive on the transparency and accountability aspects of police reform.

Asked recently about the issue, de Blasio told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer that he believes he’s lived up to his promises on policing and that disciplinary matters are done on a case-by-case basis.

“What did I say we were going to do? We were going to greatly decrease the use of stop-and-frisk. We did that. We were going to institute neighborhood policing. We’re doing that. We were going to stop the things that were causing a rift between police and community. For example, we stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession. You know, we are now doing an entirely different training regimen for our cops including de-escalation when there are encounters with civilians. We’re starting implicit bias training at the NYPD – a huge step forward for the largest police department in the country,” de Blasio said December 7 on WNYC.

The mayor continued: “I think folks who want reform should look at all that – all the things that they had said they wanted are actually happening. In terms of the disciplinary cases, each and every one of those is going to be seen through. As you know, the Garner case, right now, is in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department. When they finish their process, if they do not bring charges, there will be disciplinary action determined through the NYPD’s due process.”

“So, I don’t put those pieces together the same way that some critics do,” de Blasio said. “I think we have made steady progress on police reform.”

To support his point, de Blasio said that the city has “reinvigorated” the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a nominally independent agency that hears civilian complaints about the NYPD, holds hearings, and recommends punishments. Under de Blasio, complaints against police officers to the CCRB have dropped, something the mayor regularly cites. He mentioned it on WNYC earlier this month, while also bringing up the NYPD Inspector General, a position created through City Council legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Williams and Brad Lander, de Blasio’s successor in the City Council from Park Slope, and passed over the veto of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (de Blasio was supportive of the legislation as public advocate at the time).

“We have so many elements of reform that some of these same advocates said, for years, would change everything,” de Blasio said on WNYC. “We’re doing it. And body cameras – in the course of this year, you’re going to see body cameras starting to be introduced on a large level in New York City. They will be expanded greatly from there.”

One problem that reformers point to in de Blasio’s argument is that the NYPD commissioner continues to possess discretion as to what extent he or she follows CCRB recommendations on officer punishment and that discretion almost always leads to a lesser penalty, often significantly so. Officers who use excessive force, for example, may be docked a few vacation days as opposed to being suspended without pay or worse. Advocates want “zero tolerance” for officers who violate the rights of civilians.

Citizens Union, a government reform organization, recently published a new set of recommendations for streamlining and improving police accountability, including changes to the process by which officers are disciplined. This was a follow up to a 2012 Citizens Union report that analyzed more than ten years of CCRB and NYPD data, raising significant questions about officer discipline -- it found that “The NYPD almost always did not follow CCRB recommendations to administer the most severe penalty despite the fact that the CCRB shows great discretion in accepting and investigating complaints against police officers.”

De Blasio, who has had a contentious relationship with the main union representing rank-and-file NYPD officers, has repeatedly deflected discussion of police accountability by focusing on the new training that officers are getting, arguing that it and other reforms are preventing bad actions by officers, and reducing negative interactions between officers and members of the public.

Along with tougher sanctions on officers who use excessive force or otherwise break protocol, Williams, CPR, and others want to see movement on the Right to Know Act and another bill, sponsored by Council Member Rory Lancman, to make police chokeholds illegal -- they are currently banned by NYPD policy, but critics say this has not deterred officers from using them, as seen in Garner’s death. (Even if made illegal, chokeholds, like any other use of force, would be allowable under law when an officer’s life is in danger.)

According to Monifa Bandele of Moms Rising, the Right to Know Act would build on the progress of the Community Safety Act. She said that children come home having had an interaction with police that they felt was unjustified or abusive, but can’t tell their parents who the officer was. “It’s hard to have accountability when you don’t know who you’ve interacted with,” she said, noting that adults often have the same issue. “Transparency, which is what the Right to Know Act is rooted in, is very key to get to accountability,” Bandele said, adding that officers seem to know that “there won’t be any consequences to violating the rights of New Yorkers.”

A spokesperson for de Blasio argued that “The mayor has delivered the farthest reaching criminal justice reforms of any mayor in the city’s history," but did not address questions around officer accountability and punishment for officers who violate rules and laws.

The de Blasio administration is currently being sued by Legal Aid Society and others over its refusal to release the discipline records of Officer Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death. This, in combination with the change in policy around what had been a weekly posting of officer promotions and disciplinary action at NYPD headquarters has led to claims of backsliding on transparency and accountability.

“Without transparency about past disciplinary records when the CCRB finds an officer has committed misconduct, how can there be any real accountability?” asked Council Member Lander in a statement. “[I]f the NYPD can dismiss or downgrade the CCRB's charges secretly, and the public never knows about patterns of repeat offenders, how can communities be asked to trust the system? That’s why we are deeply distressed by the NYPD’s recent decision to suddenly reverse course on a decades-old practice of transparency, and why we’re joining the call today to release records pertaining to complaints against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.”

Pantaleo has been on modified duty since Garner’s death, but he continues to draw his NYPD salary, and was even found to be collecting significant overtime pay -- something that the NYPD quickly moved to address when Politico New York reported it. Overtime limits or not, modified duty is not enough for Pantaleo or other officers accused of wrongdoing, advocates for reform say.

Monifa Bandele said her teenage children are told the rules at school, but if they violate them, there are consequences. “Accountability is what we want from Bill de Blasio,” she said. “He’s done great things,” she added, noting universal pre-kindergarten and paid sick leave, “but what about policing -- this is an issue that Bill de Blasio ran on...it’s what separated him from the rest of the pack.”

It’s unclear at this point what “the pack” will look like as the mayor seeks re-election in 2017, but Bandele said “I don’t know” when asked if de Blasio has done enough good to warrant her support this time around. She indicated there’s still time for him to show real commitment to police reform by focusing on the transparency and accountability elements.

Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio and is talked about as a potential mayoral candidate, though he has said he is not planning to run. At a September press conference outside NYPD headquarters, Jeffries said, “The administration said to us that they would be transparent as it relates to the issue of the police and the tension with the community. Instead, they’ve retreated, and declined to provide information on rogue officers who don’t deserve to wear the blue uniform any further. The de Blasio administration promised the people of the City of New York that we would receive meaningful police reform and instead we’ve gotten more of the same. That is shameful. And we will no longer tolerate it.”

Public opinion polls consistently show de Blasio with strong support among African-Americans, especially relative to white New Yorkers. Asked about this and whether people of color should support de Blasio, Council Member Williams said, “Well I think none of our support should be taken for granted so I would tell my constituents ‘don’t give anybody your support without asking hard questions and having them respond.’”

As for whether he plans to back de Blasio (seven of Williams’ colleagues recently announced their endorsements of the mayor for re-election), Williams said, “He’s the person I supported before, I think I am inclined to still support him, but not without hearing a lot of answers on police reform issues and housing issues, these are really affecting my constituents because I think there are glaring problems in what we want to accomplish in this city and what’s been done.”

“There has been movement,” Williams added, making sure to acknowledge progress. “We said we were going to push wholesale, systematic differences and changes and I don’t think that’s come about and people have a right to hear, well, ‘why hasn’t it and what’s going to be different in the next campaign?’ So all i’m going to tell my constituents: let’s wait and hear what those answers are.”

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Monifa and Lumumba Bandele are married. Separately, this reporter noticed the Lumumba Bandele tweet mentioned in the beginning of the story and came across Monifa Bandele at the press conference mentioned, later confirming the relationship.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Bill de Blasio’s Police Accountability Problem Wed, 28 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Council to Hear Bill Mandating Publication of NYPD Patrol Guide http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6515-council-to-hear-bill-mandating-publication-of-nypd-patrol-guide http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6515-council-to-hear-bill-mandating-publication-of-nypd-patrol-guide Garodnick NYPD

City Council Member Garodnick, in NYPD hat, & colleagues (photo: William Alatriste)


A bill introduced by City Council Member Dan Garodnick to require the NYPD to publish its patrol guide online will be heard for the first time by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety next week. The hearing, set for Thursday, September 15, follows shortly on the recent controversy over the Right to Know Act, a package of police reform legislation that Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito put on the backburner in favor of related changes the NYPD agreed to implement through training and its patrol guide.

The compromise struck between Mark-Viverito and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton upset some Council members and police reform activists, while also drawing renewed scrutiny to the NYPD patrol guide.

While Mark-Viverito has insisted the Right to Know Act bills are not off the table permanently and some call for Council members to push for their passage without her agreement to schedule a vote, Garodnick’s patrol guide bill is moving forward, and appears to have widespread support. After being heard in committee the bill can be amended and then voted through committee and the full Council - if it has enough support.

While police and government reform advocates alike call for more transparency around police officer conduct, publishing the patrol guide online may be one fairly simple measure that most, if not all, stakeholders can agree on.

The NYPD patrol guide lays out procedures and codes of conduct for police officers, including protocols for interactions with the public. Free but outdated versions of the guide are available online. In 2014, Shawn Musgrave, a reporter for MuckRock, obtained a copy through a Freedom of Information Law request, albeit after significant back and forth with the department. (Local writer and political organizer Keegan Stephan also posted the same version on his blog in April this year.) The current guide can also apparently be purchased online, at this officer uniform store and through this publisher, for between $55 and $70. Garodnick’s bill, introduced in March of 2015, would require the police department to make the full patrol guide available on their website free of cost, but would exclude portions on non-routine investigative techniques, confidential information or any information that would compromise an officer’s safety or that of the public. The police department would have to update the guide each time an amendment is made, clearly noting the changes along with their effective dates. The bill would go into effect 90 days after it is signed into law. 

“The Police Commissioner supports posting the Patrol Guide on the Department's website,” said an NYPD spokesperson in a statement to Gotham Gazette, also confirming that department personnel will testify at the Sept. 15 hearing. (Coincidentally, Bratton’s last day at the NYPD is set for Sept. 16; he announced his retirement earlier this summer. Bratton has often clashed with the Council on police reform and oversight.)

Garodnick called his bill an “important transparency initiative” for the police. “This bill will help build the trust that some feel is lacking between the police and communities,” he said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “It will also add accountability because New Yorkers will be able to know what to expect in interactions with the police and be better equipped to speak up” if there are any violations, he said.

It will also help the police department, Garodnick said, in ensuring that the public understands the rules. Mark-Viverito appears to be backing the bill. “This is part of our continued push to reform the NYPD to make it more transparent,” said Eric Koch, spokesperson for the speaker, in a statement.

Publishing the patrol guide is unlikely to quiet those calling for passage of the Right to Know Act, but it would bring more light to the new directives being given to officers for carrying out street stops, among other updates that have recently been agreed upon, such as the use of civil summonses instead of criminal summonses or arrests for a variety of non-violent, low-level offenses.

Incoming Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who will take over the department when Bratton departs, has said he is fully supportive of the Right to Know compromise.

The legislation in the Right to Know Act would require police officers to identify themselves by name, rank, and command if a street stop does not result in an arrest and requires an officer to obtain consent to search a civilian, a vehicle or house and inform a civilian of their right to refuse consent for a search if there is no probable cause. The bills were strongly opposed by Bratton on behalf of the NYPD, and thus the de Blasio administration. Mark-Viverito did not agree to schedule a vote on the bills, which had a committee hearing on June 29, 2015.

Instead, Mark-Viverito struck an administrative compromise with Bratton to implement aspects of the two bills through department training and the patrol guide. In a recent interview with Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito defended the compromise as progress, explaining that the Council had moved the NYPD from its strong opposition toward middle ground. Police reform advocates have criticized the agreement, pointing out that the NYPD is particularly opaque when it comes to its patrol guide.

“Editing training and patrol guide language will never deliver real change on the ground to end the police abuses that the Right to Know Act would help end, and the Speaker’s deal to gut and seek delay of the reforms certainly will not,” said Anthonine Pierre, lead community organizer for Brooklyn Movement Center, in a statement.

Brooklyn Movement Center is a part of Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition. “Transparency is needed on a range of fronts with the NYPD and Council Member Garodnick’s efforts to advance that regarding the patrol guide are positive, but it’s troubling that this transparency bill was not provided with a hearing until public scrutiny of Speaker Mark-Viverito’s deal that lacks transparency and deficiently relies on the patrol guide,” Pierre said. There is no evidence that the hearing comes as a result of the Right to Know Act compromise.

Amid the criticism of the deal, Politico New York recently reported that the NYPD was speeding up its estimated timeline for implementing the compromise by six months. According to Politico, NYPD sergeants were to receive training on updated search protocols as early as August 26 and would relay that to officers in the next few weeks. A second “reinforcement” training was planned for September, with the department expecting the patrol guide to be updated by October 15.

At a recent news conference on the steps of City Hall, government reform group Citizens Union pointed to the lack of transparency with the patrol guide. The group released a set of proposals to improve police accountability; among them, making the patrol guide freely accessible to the public.

“I’m surprised that it even takes a law,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal proponent of police reform and a co-sponsor of the bill. “It seems obvious that it should be available to the public except in rare circumstances where that compromises public safety.”

Lancman said making the patrol guide public has been an issue for years, and not just since the Right to Know controversy. “One would have thought that de Blasio, on taking office, would have published it without needing to be forced through legislation three years into his term, to do so.”

Lancman expects the hearing to go smoothly and that the bill will receive overwhelming support. “There’s no reason the NYPD shouldn’t be transparent in this way,” he said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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Council to Hear Bill Mandating Publication of NYPD Patrol Guide Tue, 06 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Procedural Move Could Lead to Vote on Right to Know Act http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6478-procedural-move-could-lead-to-vote-on-right-to-know-act http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6478-procedural-move-could-lead-to-vote-on-right-to-know-act right to know protest city hall

A Right to Know Act rally


Last week, City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Antonio Reynoso sent out a joint statement in which they addressed the ramifications of the impending retirement of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. “With the departure of William Bratton,” the statement reads, “we are reminded that administrative agreements are every bit as short-lived as commissioners themselves, coming and going in the moments we least expect.”

The Council members were referring to an agreement between Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Bratton on the police department internally implementing certain provisions of the Right to Know Act, a proposed package of bills regulating police officer conduct during street stops of civilians. The bills, sponsored by Torres and Reynoso, have majority support in the Council but the speaker chose not to give them a vote and instead struck a compromise with Bratton - one that his replacement, now Chief of Department Jimmy O’Neill has pledged to uphold. That deal didn’t sit well with Torres and Reynoso (or other reform advocates, both in and outside the Council) and the two vowed to move forward without the speaker’s blessing.

“As the sole legislature in New York City, ‎the City Council exists to hold agencies accountable through oversight and legislation,” the statement says. “Passing the Right to Know Act to advance accountability and transparency in policing, is an extension of what we were elected to do. ‎Let us honor the legislative role to which the public, through their votes, has assigned us – it’s beyond time for the Council to pass the Right to Know Act and we will seek to do just that without any further delay.”

For the two Right to Know Act bills to get a vote before the full Council, they would typically have to first be voted through the Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who is a co-sponsor on Torres’ bill. But committee hearings are scheduled by the Speaker’s Office, which can deny a hearing, and in this case is clearly opposed to these bills receiving a vote.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Torres and Reynoso have no options to push the bills through. Under the Council rules, a bill sponsor can get seven other members to co-sign a motion to discharge the bill from committee. That motion would have to be submitted to the Speaker and the relevant committee chair at least a week before a Stated Meeting of the full Council. The motion then gets voted on by the Council, and if passed with a simple majority, the bill then gets a vote at the next Stated.

Council Member Gibson said it was too soon to consider that tactic. "The conversation on the Right to Know Act is not over, so I think it's premature to talk about a vote without the Speaker's support that might fracture good working relationships in the Council,” she told Gotham Gazette in an email. “I respect the Speaker's decision and I look forward to continuing to work with her, the rest of my colleagues, and incoming Police Commissioner Chief O'Neill as we see these administrative changes come to fruition."

A spokesperson for Council Member Torres said that a discharge motion had not been filed as of Wednesday afternoon. Torres declined to provide any comment for this story. The Council’s next stated meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 16. After that, the next Stated is set for September 14.

Torres’ bill, Intro. 182, would require police officers to identify themselves by name, rank and command when a street stop does not end in an arrest. The bill has 33 sponsors. Reynoso’s bill, Intro. 541, requires officers to obtain consent when searching a person, vehicle or home and also to inform a person of their right to refuse consent. That bill has 28 sponsors.

The compromise between Mark-Viverito and Bratton incorporates certain aspects of the two bills, but not all. Under the agreement, the NYPD will make changes to its patrol guide, requiring officers to obtain a clear "yes" or "no" response after asking to conduct a consent search - meaning a search where there is no probable cause. Officers will also be required to give out business cards when they search a person, property, vehicle or home or at checkpoint stops and the search does not result in a punitive action.

Council Member Jumaane Williams, an ally on both Right to Know bills and an outspoken critic of the deal between the speaker and commissioner, said he was glad Torres and Reynoso had decided to forge ahead with the bills. “I’ll follow their leadership,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. Williams agrees that the provisions of the bills need to be codified in law to be effective.

“The Speaker has said the legislative door isn’t closed,” he added, referring to Mark-Viverito’s pledge to re-evaluate as they see implementation of the administrative changes, which will include adjustments to the NYPD patrol guide and new training of officers. “Hopefully there’s some common ground that we can reach to move [the Right to Know Act] forward,” Williams said, adding that Bratton’s retirement provides an opportunity “to take a new look at where we are with this act.”

On Thursday, a number of prominent advocacy organizations that have been pushing the Right to Know Act and criticizing Mark-Viverito over her compromise with Bratton held a Twitter rally calling for passage of the two bills with the hashtag #RightToKnowAct. Leading the call was Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition group of dozens of nonprofits. Organizations that lent their voices to the effort on Twitter include the Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York Working Families Party, Justice League NYC, and Color of Change, among others.

So far, the speaker has not responded to the indications that Torres and Reynoso would seek a vote without her express approval. She has time and again reiterated that the agreement with Bratton is an effective reform measure and one that goes into effect faster than legislation could. “This is yet another set of critical police reforms that will continue to keep New Yorkers safe while also ensuring better interactions with the communities they serve,” the speaker said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This agreement is about more than talk, it is about action. These reforms serve as a model for how we can work collaboratively to achieve lasting change.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Procedural Move Could Lead to Vote on Right to Know Act Thu, 11 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Working with The Next Police Commissioner http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6472-working-with-the-next-police-commissioner http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6472-working-with-the-next-police-commissioner williams king deblasio

City Council Member Jumaane Williams, the author (photo: Jeff Reed)


Given where we are in the policing discussion in this city and country, and the acknowledgement of how deeply systemic the problems lie, focusing on the departure or hiring of any one Commissioner has always simplified a complex problem. I have never known a time when people were not calling for the removal of an NYPD Commissioner as the solution to policing issues in our city.

It was right for many of us to express concerns when Commissioner Bill Bratton was chosen, given troublesome incidents in Boston, Los Angeles, and right here in New York City. It was also our duty to point out clearly and boldly when we thought he was not helping us steer the conversation in the right direction. Indeed, there were times when Commissioner Bratton showed contempt for the City Council's role in government. The Police Department is not an agency unto itself, free of the city’s legislative body. The Commissioner has also, at times, used language that ranged from insensitive to incendiary and dangerous.

Still, we would be wrong to say that no change has occurred during his tenure.

We can argue about what the changes that have occurred mean, how effective they are and will eventually be, but we cannot ignore them. While there are still issues with the percentage breakdown by race of who is getting stopped and arrested, there have been significant drops in stop-question-and-frisks and marijuana arrests. The Neighborhood Coordination Officers Program, while not true community policing, is a good attempt to move away from focusing on arrests and summonses. There have been legislative victories, collaborations, and of course, the retraining of the entire force -- all while pushing crime to historic lows.

It takes many partners to deal with public safety and NYPD has a crucial role.

With all that said, we are not where many of us thought we would be in 2016, particularly in the areas of trust and accountability. In these areas improvement has been slow, even stagnant. This is where the new Commissioner, James O'Neill, whom I've grown to view as an honest broker, can really focus on moving the ball forward. I congratulate him on his appointment and look forward to working with him.

Long-lasting change cannot happen until we tackle all of the socioeconomic and structural obstacles that poor, black, and brown communities face. Unemployment, inadequate housing, and an unsatisfactory education system are all problems that need interagency solutions. Police have a tough job, and we owe it to them and the community not to ask them to do jobs that they shouldn't be doing.

In addition, the City Council has a legislative responsibility to do its part. To that end I am disappointed to hear Chief O’Neill say he will support the current agreement around the Right to Know Act (RTKA) without creating law. The RTKA goes hand-in-hand with the new neighborhood policing model, as well as the Right to Record Act, which helps protect both police and community. Together, they are responsible, common sense laws that will promote transparency and accountability in the police department, with the RTKA proposals mirroring recommendations from the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. These pieces of legislation will also help repair the relationship between the department and black and brown communities.

While improved policing practices and common sense legislation are steps in the right direction, we cannot expect the troubles of the community to be fixed solely by police and lawmakers. If we are honest, the biggest improvement would be the complete acceptance that the responsibility for public safety cannot be left to police alone. This acknowledgement must be combined with concentrated funding for other resources that complement, match, or exceed investment in law enforcement.

I look forward to working with the new Commissioner on these ideas and others.

When asked about the future of policing in this city when Commissioner Bratton was appointed I said then that I was “cautiously optimistic.” As an elected leader, I make no apologies for remaining optimistic in the worst and best of times while fighting to do right. If asked again as Commissioner O’Neill is set to take over, my answer would be the same.

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Jumaane D. Williams is a City Council member from Brooklyn and co-chair of the Council's Task Force to Combat Gun Violence. On Twitter @JumaaneWilliams.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Working with The Next Police Commissioner Tue, 09 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Right to Know Act is Progress We Need Now http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6446-right-to-know-act-is-progress-we-need-now http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6446-right-to-know-act-is-progress-we-need-now Jason Salmon

The author, center


I’m lying awake at 4 a.m. wondering if our calls for justice will ever be answered. The evening before I was marching in midtown, protesting the tragic killing of Alton Sterling. It’s been 17 months since the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and two years since Eric Garner’s death by suffocation at the hands of police. Even with cell phone cameras making this deadly reality no longer something we can ignore, justice remains elusive.

Lying awake, scrolling through Instagram, I noticed a lot of people liking and re- posting a graphic that’s the focal piece of Beyonce’s redesigned website. The redesign is dedicated to the killing of black people by law enforcement in this country over the past two years. It provides a stark picture of our condition. It’s simple enough: a black background with all the names of the murdered typed in white. I looked for my childhood friend’s name. He was killed by Florida law enforcement around the same time as Eric Garner. Not a highly publicized case, so I thought it might have been overlooked. But no, there it was.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how parents feel when their sons and daughters are killed. The horrible grief family members endure. I felt sick. And why shouldn’t I? What if my own father stepped outside his home and didn’t return? Seeing all of this death, having our voices ignored and justice denied time after time, I felt truly demoralized in a way I had never before in my life.

Two years ago, protesting the Garner tragedy, I took part in my first civil disobedience action on the Upper West Side. Soon thereafter, I found myself engaged in community organizing with an organization called Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), searching for peaceful ways to effect positive transformation. I then became JFREJ’s representative to Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition made up of dozens of organizations working toward ending discriminatory policing practices in New York City and beyond.

My main focus and energy has been working to support the passage of The Right to Know Act. This is important legislation that reinforces Fourth Amendment rights on the ground and has the potential to improve relations between the police and communities of color. It’s composed of two bills: the “ID bill” requires an officer to identify him- or her-self when having an interaction with a civilian, and the “consent to search bill” requires officers to inform citizens of their right to withhold consent to be searched where probable cause is absent.

Passing and implementing this legislation would go a long way toward normalizing police-community relations in this city and will allow us to take a step toward the justice that communities of color so richly deserve.

Sadly, the City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, is currently unwilling to bring this groundbreaking legislation to the Council floor for a vote, even though a majority of the Council has signed on to both bills. Instead, she made a backroom deal with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton - the architect of discriminatory Broken Windows policing - and scrapped this bill in exchange for adding a watered-down version to the NYPD patrol guide.

The compromise eliminates any guarantee that individuals will be notified of their right to refuse a search when there is no legal basis for one and discards the requirement for officers to identify themselves in most instances, including when individuals are questioned without reasonable suspicion. This strips the teeth from what is outlined in The Right To Know Act and delivers none of the reforms that President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended.

The bottom line: we need The Right To Know Act to become law. We know from a long and painful past that administrative prohibitions or protocols do not serve as true agents of change. For more than twenty years chokeholds have been prohibited by the patrol guide, yet this did not stop officers from using that technique resulting in the killing of Anthony Baez in 1994 and, more recently, the killing of Eric Garner in 2014. Effective? I think not. There also happens to be legislation making police chokeholds illegal (except, of course, in life-threatening situations) that is opposed by Commissioner Bratton and has not moved through the City Council.

Would passage of the Right to Know Act be the cure to police brutality? No. More is needed. Education, training, strict enforcement of NYPD rules, and real accountability instead of mere lip service, would also go a long way to eliminating police violence against citizens.

It’s also true we may never be able to eradicate all racial bias, and that some people can’t be educated or trained to be different. However, enacting laws that genuinely require the police to respect black people through proper communication will, in the process, respect everyone’s life, including the lives of police officers. The Right to Know Act would be a positive step on that road to de-escalation and reconciliation.

Let’s demand the Right to Know Act be brought to the City Council floor for a vote. True democracy requires nothing less.

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Jason Salmon is a community organizer for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and owns Treehouse Recording Studios in Brooklyn. On Twitter @JasonASalmon.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Right to Know Act is Progress We Need Now Wed, 20 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000