February 22nd, 2024

NYPD officers will have to record race of people they question in law aimed at police transparency

By Anthony Izaguirre And Philip Marcelo, The Associated Press on January 30, 2024.

New York City police officers will be required to record the apparent race, gender and ages of most people they stop for questioning under a law passed Tuesday by the City Council, which overrode a veto by Mayor Eric Adams.

The issue was thrust into the national spotlight in recent days when NYPD officers pulled over a Black council member without giving him a reason.

The law gives police reform advocates a major win in requiring the nation’s largest police department and its 36,000 officers to document all investigative encounters in a city that once had officers routinely stop and frisk huge numbers of men for weapons – a strategy that took a heavy toll on communities of color.

It requires officers to document basic information in low-level encounters, where police ask for information from people who aren’t necessarily suspected of a crime.

Officers also will have to report the circumstances that led to stopping a particular person. The data would be made public on the police department’s website.

City Council Member Kevin Riley, a Bronx Democrat who is Black, related his own experience of being detained by police simply for hunting for a parking spot on Manhattan’s Upper West Side while fresh out of college as he voted for the law.

“This is something we deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “When we see those red and blue lights, our hearts drop into our stomachs.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who sponsored the bill, said that reporting the encounters could be done in less than a minute on an officer’s smartphone through a system already in place.

Since 2001, NYPD officers have been required to document instances in which they have asked someone “accusatory” questions as part of an investigation, detain or search someone or arrest them.

“This is not about preventing police work,” Williams said. “This is police work.”

The mayor, a Democrat and former police captain, has said the reporting requirements for low-level stops would be too time-consuming for officers, forcing them to fill out forms every time they speak to a person rather than focusing on solving a crime.

“If you talk to the victim of a crime or law enforcement professional, they will tell you: in public safety, seconds matter,” Adams said Tuesday at City Hall as he implored the council to let his veto stand.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, a Democrat who is not related to the mayor, pushed back Tuesday, saying opponents were exaggerating how much of a burden the new requirements would be. The law doesn’t require officers to document casual conversations, such as providing directions, which are explicitly exempt under the requirements, she stressed.

“There should not be resistance to telling people who is being stopped in this city and why,” she said.

Republicans, by far the minority on the council, raised their own objections Tuesday, with some suggesting the bill only served to further racial divisions in a city that’s seen its share of otherwise innocuous police stops turn deadly.

“Please don’t make this a racial issue. It isn’t,” Council Member Vickie Paladino, a Queens Republican who is white, said after a number of her council peers spoke strongly in favor of the bill, with a number even speaking in Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin and Haitian Creole.

Others noted that this coming Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of when a young, unarmed Black immigrant named Amadou Diallo was shot dozens of times by NYPD officers in the Bronx.

“We didn’t make this a race thing,” Riley said. “This is a race thing.”

In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD violated the civil rights of Black and Hispanic residents with its stop-and-frisk tactic. Since then, the department has reported a large decline in such encounters, though an ACLU report found people of color were still the targets of the vast majority of stop-and-frisks in 2022.

After the council first approved the How Many Stops Act in December, Adams and the NYPD publicly campaigned against it. On Friday night, the mayor hosted a police ride-along for council members in an effort to sway some lawmakers from voting to override his veto.

But the event was overshadowed that same evening when an officer pulled over Council Member Yusef Salaam, an exonerated member of the “Central Park Five” who with four other Black and Latino men were falsely accused and convicted of raping a white jogger in Central Park in 1989. Their convictions were eventually overturned through DNA evidence.

In the very brief encounter, an officer asked Salaam to roll down his windows and identified himself. Salaam told the officer he was on the City Council and asked why he was pulled over, according to audio of the encounter published by The New York Times.

The officer told Salaam, “Oh, OK. Have a good one” before walking away, body camera footage showed. The NYPD later released a statement that said Salaam was pulled over for driving with dark window tints beyond the legal limit.

Though such a stop would not be covered by the transparency law – police already have to record information when they pull a driver over – Salaam argued that it showed the need for greater police transparency.

“This experience only amplified the importance of transparency for all police investigative stops, because the lack of transparency allows racial profiling and unconstitutional stops of all types to occur and often go underreported,” Salaam said in a statement.

The council on Tuesday also overrode Adams’ veto of a bill that would restrict the use of solitary confinement in the city’s jails.

The law places a four-hour limit on isolating inmates who pose an immediate risk of violence to others or themselves in “de-escalation” units. Only those involved in violent incidents could be placed in longer-term restrictive housing, and they would need to be allowed out of their cells for 14 hours each day and get access to the same programming available to other inmates.

In his letter vetoing that bill, Adams argued the restrictions would put inmates and corrections officers alike at risk. He also cited concerns raised by a federal monitor appointed to evaluate operations at the city’s jails.

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Associated Press writer Ruth Brown in New York contributed to this report.

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