NYC Showdown Looms as Council Plans Limits on Police

New York council members plan to approve two bills to protect minorities from overzealous police, setting up a clash with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who says the city would become vulnerable to criminals and terrorists.

One law would create an inspector general empowered to review police policies and practices. The other would allow lawsuits against the city when an officer uses racial profiling as a reason for questioning an individual.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one of seven candidates seeking the Democratic mayoral nomination, was blasted by her rivals after pushing to allow the vote and announcing her support for the first measure and not the second. The mayor says he’ll veto the bills, which are set for a vote this week. Council members need 34 votes in the 51-member chamber to override him.

Crime has dropped 34 percent since Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, and the city has had 25 percent fewer homicides so far this year than in 2012, when it recorded an all-time low of 417, according to the police department. The numbers show New York to be the safest big city in the U.S., Bloomberg says.

The proposed laws jeopardize those achievements, creating “a police department pointlessly hampered by outside intrusion and recklessly threatened by second-guessing from the courts,” Bloomberg said at a June 23 news conference in Lower Manhattan, where he was joined by Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Vallone Overruled

That was the day Quinn, 46, the mayor’s closest ally on the council, 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, who had refused to free them for consideration. The council is controlled by Democrats.

“We can both keep New York the safest big city in America and improve police-community relations throughout our city,” Quinn said in an e-mail. “We can enhance the effectiveness of the NYPD and at the same time increase the public’s faith and confidence in the department.”

The debate over police oversight takes place as the city and civil-liberties advocates 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.

‘Deliberatively Indifferent’

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 brief.

The U.S. Justice Department, while taking no position on the claims against the city, said in a June 12 memorandum to the judge that it endorsed the use of a court-appointed monitor in the event she rules it 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 conference in Queens, saying “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.”

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.

The case is Floyd v. City of New York, 08-cv-01034, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

(Corrects votes needed for override in third paragraph.)
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.