We represent two very different neighborhoods — East Flatbush and Park Slope — but all our constituents want our families to be safe. And we all want to be treated with respect — in our homes, shops, houses of worship and when we walk down the street.
That requires a strong partnership with our police officers, who risk their own safety to protect ours on a daily basis. Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have pursued well-intentioned but misguided policies that are breaking down the bonds of trust needed to protect our safety and our liberties.
Stop, question and frisk has always been a key tool for law enforcement. But over the last decade, the Bloomberg administration has expanded it far beyond reason, pushing officers to make stops without the “reasonable suspicion” required by the Constitution.
Between 2002 and 2011, the number of stops — more than half of which produced frisks last year — skyrocketed by over 600% (from 97,296 to 685,724), overwhelmingly targeting African-Americans and Latinos. Yet the number of shootings has remained constant. This is not surprising, since guns are only found in 0.1% of stops.
Two recent videos, one of a young man of color on the street in Harlem, one of a Jewish man at a youth shelter in Crown Heights, show a deep disregard for courtesy, professionalism and respect.
And it’s not just stop, question and frisk. Women and kids who live in public housing get tickets for trespassing in their own homes. Innocent Muslim-Americans have learned that they are having information collected about them by undercover NYPD officers, even in other states, with no suspicion of wrongdoing. Pedestrians are killed or seriously injured by drunken drivers but cannot get a real investigation. Officers themselves complain of enforcement quotas and pressure to downgrade crime stats.
All these problems grow — and community perception of the department becomes worse — when there is a lack of meaningful oversight of NYPD policies.
That is why we introduced the Community Safety Act, supported by a bipartisan majority of our colleagues. The legislation has been carefully crafted to improve policing while ensuring safer streets, drawing on the best ideas from police departments around the country.
Despite what Bloomberg and others assert, it would not interfere with good police work — just provide accountability and oversight to ensure that the NYPD acts lawfully, treating all New Yorkers with dignity and respect.
To start, the act would ban bias-based profiling, using the same standard as the Department of Justice, in a policy adopted in 2003 by the Bush administration, and building on a law signed by Bloomberg in 2004. It would also require officers to identify themselves and explain why they had stopped someone.
Contrary to incorrect assertions, including in a recent Daily News editorial, the act would not require police to get consent to frisk someone they suspect of being armed and dangerous. But it would end the practice of NYPD officers deceiving New Yorkers by using “empty your pockets” as a way of gaining someone’s consent when there is no threat and no other legal basis for the search.
The act would also create an inspector general for the NYPD, an oversight body that exists for every other major New York City and federal agency.
We are well aware of how this proposal has been portrayed: as an attempt to handcuff our cops and prevent them from doing their jobs. That’s a total misrepresentation.
Everyone knows: Too often, power corrupts and bureaucracy lets problems fester. In a whole host of agencies, inspectors general play a crucial role in rooting out corruption, letting in sunlight and fixing problems — from Medicaid fraud to bid-rigging.
At the FBI and CIA, and in cities around the country, inspectors general have helped law enforcement agencies improve unwise policies. Other times, IG investigations have shown that an agency under fire was actually in the right.
Every government agency needs independent oversight. And they all have it — including the City Council, which is covered by an inspector general at the city’s Department of Investigation.
The only agency immune to such third-party scrutiny is the one that interacts with New Yorkers in countless sensitive situations every day: the NYPD.
And for those who suggest that this would usher in a political circus, nonsense. The NYPD’s inspector general would be hired and fired by the mayor, not by the City Council. So there should be no concern about cheap fingerpointing.
Our bill is designed to produce more respectful policing. It’s also intended to strengthen the eroding bonds of trust between cops and the community.
Isn’t that what we should all want?
Williams and Lander are members of the New York City Council.