NYC Council approves several sweeping police reform bills

The bills include making it easier to sue cops for excessive force and require the NYPD to track the race of drivers in traffic stops

By Shant Shahrigian, Michael Gartland and Graham Rayman
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — The New York City Council passed a series of sweeping police reforms for the New York Police Department on Thursday involving issues from excessive force to rookie residency — and no one appears to be happy.

After months of calls to defund the police, critics say the new measures do nothing more than defang them. And the ones who have been pushing hardest for reform said the bills passed by the Council don’t go nearly far enough.

That includes bills that would make it easier to sue cops for improper searches and excessive force, and require the NYPD to track the race and ethnicity of motorists pulled over in traffic stops.

Also getting Council backing were bills in the state legislature that would strip the police commissioner of final say in disciplinary cases and require new police hires to reside in the five boroughs.

City lawmakers also grudgingly approved Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “NYPD reform” plan sparked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order threatening to withhold state funds from localities that don’t approve such plans by April 1.

None of the measures passed unanimously, but Mayor de Blasio called it “a very, very strong reform package.”

The City Council voted 39-11 in support of the resolution to strip the police commissioner of final say on discipline.

“The police commissioner overrules the CCRB and/or the trial judge 71% of the time,” said Councilman Stephen Levin of Brooklyn. “That is absolutely evidence of a dysfunctional system.”

But the city’s top cop said such measures do nothing but handcuff the police.

“Ask any police chief that doesn’t have the final say on discipline and you will find a chief who has had officers returned to duty that shouldn’t have been and in many of those cases more acts of misconduct by an officer the chief wanted to fire,” Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a statement.

“No other city agency uses that system nor does the FBI, the Secret Service, or the Marines. There is a reason for that. You need to know where the buck stops,” Shea said.

But CCRB chair Fred Davis said it’s high time for transparency.

“Providing the CCRB with final disciplinary authority would lead to greater police accountability and ensure New Yorkers have a disciplinary process that — from start to finish— is totally independent from the police department,” Davis said.

Advocates slammed the package as too weak, particularly the mayor’s response to Cuomo’s executive order calling for police reform.

“The mayor’s plan is a far cry from the transformative change New Yorkers demanded in the streets and at the polls,” said New York Civil Liberties Union senior policy counsel Michael Sisitzky. “It is, simply put, more of the same.

“The de Blasio administration has had since June to respond to the requirement to build a plan that would decrease the size, scope and power of the NYPD. Instead, they are laying a shoddy foundation for future reform that privileges NYPD input over the voices of Black and Latinx communities that have been afflicted by police abuse for far too long,” Sisitzky added.

Community advocacy group VOCAL-NY said the mayor’s plan doesn’t even come close to what’s needed and ignores those who want to shrink the size of the NYPD’s budget.

“Mayor de Blasio clearly made this plan without actually listening to what people need. We don’t need police in the community and we don’t need them repairing basketball courts. We need education, housing, and access to resources, not police,” said Carl Stubbs, VOCAL-NY community leader.

The police unions blasted the measures and accused City Council members of “attacking” cops and letting criminals run wild.

“New Yorkers are getting shot, and police officers are on the streets day and night, trying to stop the bloodshed,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association.

“Where are those City Council members? Safe at home, hiding behind their screens and dreaming up new ways to give criminals a free pass. It won’t get better unless New Yorkers shame the politicians into doing their job.”

The New York City Law Enforcement Coalition — which also includes the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Lieutenants Benevolent Association and the Captains Endowment Association — put an electronic message board on a vehicle near City Hall to drive home its point.

“New Yorkers shot this year? 250. That’s 41% more than last year,” the billboard reads. “What is the City Council doing? Nothing. Except attacking cops. Shame on the City Council.”

One of the bills clears a legal hurdle to suing the NYPD alleging unreasonable search and seizure and excessive force. Under the qualified immunity provision, in a lawsuit the city has been able to get claims dismissed by showing no previous court case covers that exact situation. That passed 37-11.

Another requires the NYPD to more closely track the race and ethnicity of motorists stopped by police. The department would have to issue a quarterly report on all stops that includes number of summonses issued, arrests made, vehicles seized, related use of force incidents and vehicle searches. That passed 43-6.

“‘Driving while Black’ isn’t just an issue in middle America,” said Public Safety Committee chair Adrienne Adams. “But we have no idea how bad this problem is in New York City because the NYPD doesn’t track race when it writes tickets and it doesn’t report how many stops it makes.”

The Council also passed a bill by a 39-10 vote to turn over vehicle crash investigative functions from the NYPD to the city Department of Transportation.

Another resolution supports a second state Legislature proposal to sharpen the residency requirement for police officers, requiring newly-hired cops to live in New York City. That passed 42-7.

The Council also put through a resolution to adopt de Blasio’s police plan in response to Cuomo’s executive order that directs municipalities to make changes to their police departments or risk losing state funding. That passed 40 to 10, but it was sharply criticized by some.

The committee adopted the mayor’s plan with some amendments, including 5,000 new summer job slots for CUNY students, $29.5 million for anti-violence and mental health case management services, and additional funds for mental health outreach and families at risk of homelessness.

Several Council members criticized the mayor for forwarding the draft plan just a few weeks ahead of the governor’s April 1 deadline when the administration had 10 months to compile it. The mayor’s final plan was turned over to the council just this week.

“It doesn’t not do what we need to have done. it will have no substantial impact,” Councilwoman Inez Barron of Brooklyn said.

But Adams said it was a necessity, however flawed. “If we don’t adopt this (measure), the governor can withhold federal funding,” Adams said. “This is only the floor and not the ceiling. This is the beginning of reform, certainly not the end.”

The measures will now be passed to the mayor for signing.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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