Police Reform Is Coming to New York City, but Will the NYPD Follow the Law?

In December 2017, the New York City Council passed two police reform measures, collectively known as the Right to Know Act, which aimed to improve communication and transparency during police stops and searches. On Friday, both bills will take full effect, and the New York Police Department will be tasked with implementing the council’s mandate to become more transparent and accountable. But there are good reasons to be skeptical that the NYPD will implement the law faithfully. 

The first measure requires the NYPD to develop a policy that instructs officers to let people know when they have the right to refuse to be searched. Under the consent-to-search law, if an officer wants to search someone, her home, her vehicle, or her property without a warrant or a legally recognized exception under the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, the officer must ask if the person voluntarily agrees to be searched.

The law also requires the officer to explain that no search will happen if the individual stopped says no, and it requires the officer to double check that the person stopped understands that explanation. If the person has limited English proficiency, the officer must use interpretation services so that the person understands what’s being asked of her.

If the officer has a body-worn camera, the encounter will be recorded, and the officer will be required to let the person know how to request a copy of that footage. The NYPD will also have to start keeping track of these encounters and publicly report how many searches are happening and, perhaps most importantly, the demographics of the people being asked to let an officer search them.

The second part of the Right to Know Act requires officers to identify themselves at the start of certain enforcement encounters, provide an explanation for why they stopped someone, and offer the person a business card at the end of any encounter that doesn’t result in an arrest or summons. So, for example, when officers ask to search someone or stops-and-frisks him, those officers will have to explain who they are and why that encounter is happening. If the person isn’t arrested or issued a summons, the officer must give him a business card, which will also include information on how to submit comments or complaints about how they were treated.  

Unfortunately, the version of the ID bill that became law has a huge loophole that swallows the original intent of the law. Under previous versions, officers would need to identify themselves in any nonemergency encounter involving investigative questioning. These types of encounters represent the vast majority of police stops. The version that was passed into law only requires officer identification when a person is “suspected of criminal activity.” But police don’t need to suspect someone of criminal activity to approach them, disrupt their daily routines, and question or harass them, since New York case law allows officers to approach people without any kind of suspicion and ask them to produce ID or question them about where they’re going.

The Right to Know Act’s passage was bittersweet for the New York Civil Liberties Union and our partners in Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), a coalition led by the communities who are most directly impacted by police abuse. We had advocated on behalf of these two bills for more than five years, but in the days leading up to the vote, we were forced to withdraw our support for the ID bill after it was severely watered down in closed-door meetings between the bill’s sponsor, the council speaker, and the NYPD. CPR and the NYCLU were shut out of the backroom deal.  

Such bad-faith negotiations raise a specter: Will we actually see the changes required by the Right to Know Act embraced by officers on patrol? That really depends on how committed the NYPD is to implementing these laws in good faith. And so far, the NYPD’s actions have created some reason for concern beyond the last-minute backroom deal. 

After the bills were passed, the NYPD again disregarded the concerns of the people behind the legislation. The consent-to-search law starts off by expressing the council’s intent for the NYPD to develop its new policy “with input from the community and Council.” But the communities and advocates who had been the driving force behind this law were not consulted in any meaningful way. Instead, contrary to the law, the NYPD developed its new policies and guidance without any community guidance. This raises serious concerns about the NYPD's commitment to fully following the law. 

The Right to Know Act represents a critical response by communities who have been subjected to police misconduct and abuse for decades. It was the result of New Yorkers pushing back on a police department that, for too long, had been left to police itself. But as the NYPD has shown, it will try to hold on to as much of the status quo as politically possible, and that, in the long run, will only worsen the police’s reputation in the communities it’s supposed to protect and serve. 

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Dr. Timothy Leary

"You know Batman, I think it's cool when the police slap these evil doers around":: Robin in Batman Comics No. 47.

Anonymous

This article seems to slant towards being anti cop. Paints a broad picture that every encounter with with an officer, will always end up with a baton to the head. Police officers are men and woman with children or pets just like you. Random people claiming they know the law or their job better than you is always irritating,. Put yourself in an officers shoes as you read this, imagine someone telling you that the thing your passionate about your doing wrong. consider what it’s like to go to work and get met with sneers disapproving stares and cellphones being pointed at you when all you want is to get through your day. all this to say , that it seems there is a lack of respect on both sides slapping more complex rules and laws in to an already challenging job where haste is needed will only muddle matters more but here’s another broad statement to match this article...You brought these complications on yourselves. I’ll leave it to you to figure out who I mean by it.

Anonymous

Police officers, that operate within their constitutional authority - as their Oath of Office legally requires - are the best public servants. When police "management" gives orders to rank & file officers that exceeds their constitutional authority - violates their Oath of Office [Article VI of the United States Constitution] - the citizens and non-citizens have legal standing in a court of law to challenge that illegal practice. Police management should start following their own Oath of Office, not blame those being violated. In any organization operating in extreme secrecy and little oversight - from police to FBI to CIA - fidelity to one's supreme loyalty oath is vitally important. Do we want anyone having such immense power that is disloyal to their Oath of Office? Likely 90+% of those tortured and blacklisted [also a form of torture] had no evidence linking them to terrorism or any crime whatsoever. Why didn't the national security agencies say "NO" to disloyal supervisors ordering them to be disloyal to their Oath of Office? Why didn't the FBI and DOJ arrest and indict them? Proper loyalty matters!

Anonymous

The entire premise of an American "rule of law" constitutional system is that "the ends don't justify unconstitutional means". Americans reach the "ends" using constitutional due process. In the American system, the goal is NOT to use dragnet policing. Preemption was an unAmerican concept until Bush Jr. Ashcroft and a compliant Congress changed over 200 years of American history. In foreign banana republics with kangaroo courts, they do use preemption, guilt-by-association and show trials. The Framers of the U.S. Constitution intentionally designed "obstacles to prosecution" [verbatim language by the Founders] in order to place the burden of proof on police and prosecutors [Judicial Branch checking the Executive Branch police and prosecutors]. Bottom line: if we want a free nation, with individual freedoms, instead of a banana republic with kangaroo courts - this is the price! If we want a communist style "Stasi" or secret police, which resulted in thousands of murders and pre-mature death of citizens during the Cold War. then take away checks & balances on the Executive Branch agencies. (For the record, Reagan, Truman and Eisenhower didn't want the banana republic model for America).

Anonymous

Anyone being harassed by police or federal agencies (Post 2001 Blacklisting) should focus their money and resources on the Judicial Branch court system. The U.S. Department of Justice, Police chiefs (most responsible for unconstitutional practices) and "Internal Affairs" official (good well-meaning people) are all part of the "political" Executive Branch - not the Judicial Branch. As someone harassed more than 6000 consecutive days since 9/11 and losing over $500,000 in out-of-pocket income (not punitive costs). You are wasting your time with the two "political" branches of government, they will do nothing while material evidence gets destroyed. Anyone can file a federal lawsuit with or without an attorney. One can even file a "Constitutional Lawsuit" in federal court to overturn unconstitutional practices (ex: ask a judge or jury to rule warrantless spying by Fusion Centers violates the 4th Amendment). If you rely on the political branches, nothing will happen. Spend your time and money on the federal courts!

Anonymous

Seriously, if u lived in NYC would u play fair? )

S. Randall Thomas

Death to the Authoritarian Statist.

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