The New York City Council approved two bills to protect minorities from overzealous police, setting up a clash with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who says the laws would make it more difficult to fight crime and terrorism.
The council voted 40 to 11 to create an inspector general empowered to review police policies and practices, and 34-17 to allow lawsuits against the city when an officer uses racial profiling as a reason to question an individual. The mayor said he will veto both measures; supporters need 34 votes in the 51-member chamber to override him.
“I believe that we must have both safe streets and stronger police-community relations,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said before the votes early this morning. “An inspector general will provide feedback and recommendations to our police commissioner and mayor on how to balance these two goals and ensure one doesn’t impede on the other.”
Crime has dropped 34 percent since Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, and the city has had 25 percent fewer homicides this year through mid-June compared with the same period in 2012, when it had 417, according to the police data. The numbers show New York to be the safest big city in the U.S., says Bloomberg.
“Unfortunately, these dangerous pieces of legislation will only hurt our police officers’ ability to protect New Yorkers and sustain this tremendous record of accomplishment,” Bloomberg said in a statement after the bills were passed. He said he will veto the legislation.
Quinn, 46, a Democrat and the mayor’s closest council ally, helped steer the bills to a vote by joining with her colleagues to overrule Peter Vallone Jr., the Democratic chairman of the Public Safety Committee. He had refused to free the measures for consideration. While she supports adding an inspector general, Quinn opposes the racial-profiling measure, saying it will hamper police and encourage frivolous lawsuits.
Police union leader Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the profiling bill would prevent officers from using gender, skin color or age in describing a suspect. Supporters of the measure deny that.
“Allowing someone who is simply questioned by police to sue the NYPD will paralyze law enforcement,” Lynch said yesterday by e-mail.
Taking up an issue unrelated to policing, the council voted 47-4 to override the mayor’s veto of a bill requiring employers with 20 or more workers to provide paid sick leave starting April 1. It would be expanded to those with 15 or more employees a year later, in 2015. It initially passed 45-3 on May 8.
The early morning vote, which followed hours of debate on the police bills, concluded at 2:30 a.m., and included a 50-1 vote to approve a $70 billion budget for the 2014 fiscal year beginning July 1.
The votes to boost police oversight took place as civil-liberties advocates in the city of 8.3 million await a decision by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan in a 2008 lawsuit accusing police of disproportionately targeting minority youths to stop, question or frisk them on the street.
Of the 4.3 million stop-and-frisk searches in the past nine years, more than 80 percent were of blacks and Latinos, according to court papers filed by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which backs the plaintiffs. Less than 1 percent of those stops led to recovery of a gun, the plaintiffs said.
New York has been “deliberately indifferent” to the constitutional violations of its police force, attorneys for the four men suing said in a June 12 post-trial filing.
The U.S. Justice Department, while taking no position on the claims against the city, said in a June 12 memo to the judge that it endorsed the use of a court-appointed monitor in the event it’s ruled to be necessary.
“The experience of the United States in enforcing police reform injunctions teaches that the appointment of an independent monitor is a critically important asset,” the department said.
Bloomberg, 71, denounced the Justice Department statement during a June 13 news briefing in Queens, saying police are trained to stop people only under appropriate circumstances.
“It just makes no sense whatsoever when lives are on the line to change the rules and hamper the police department from doing their job,” he said.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP. A political independent, he is barred by law from seeking a fourth term. Speaker Quinn is among seven Democrats seeking to replace him next year.
The case is Floyd v. City of New York, 08-cv-01034, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).