Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
Council Members Push NYPD Reform to Curb Stop-and-Frisk Practice
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 02:34 PM
A coalition of City Council members and advocates led by Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn introduced Wednesday a package of police reform bills the group says will bring greater accountability to the NYPD.
The elected officials and advocates who stood outside City Hall on Wednesday form a group called Communities United For Police Reform, which intends to make police reform a major issue in the upcoming mayoral election.
The coalition took aim at the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices, which reached a record high in 2011 when police conducted more than 684,000 stops. Eighty-seven percent of people stopped were either black or Latino.
"We represent the communities that stop-and-frisk and police accountability are huge issues in," Williams said, "and what we're telling you is, these tools are being abused in our community, and they're not working."
Last year, stop and frisks led to the confiscation of 819 guns, which amounts to about one tenth of one percent of all stop-and-frisks the department conducted in 2011.
The police department has argued that although the percentage is small, stop-and-frisks indisputably result in hundreds of fewer illegal guns circulating in New York City.
Williams pointed out that gun buy-back programs take more guns off the street. The NYPD has never disputed that claim.
"There is no other agency that would be allowed to have such a failure rate and continue to use a tool that does not work, except for the NYPD," said Williams.
Councilwoman Letitia James said the only reason the vast majority of people stopped are black or Latino is because the police are relying on racial profiling.
"Unfortunately, it has not resulted in reducing any crime," said James. "These are innocent people, it's costing taxpayers, and it has not fostered better community policing relations. Unfortunately, it's only hurt them."
One bill introduced Wednesday would ban profiling by police based on race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, housing status, among other characteristics.
The police department has had a ban on racial profiling since 2002, but that operations order is limited only to racial profiling.
Another bill would require officers to tell a person they can refuse consent to a search when police do not have a warrant or probable cause. If passed, this new law would force officers to show evidence of that consent through a written and signed record, or through audio tape or video footage.
The third bill would require officers to give out business cards with their name and rank each after they stop and frisk someone. The card would also display the phone number for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent police watchdog organizations the investigates instances of individual police misconduct.
"None of this stuff alone is going to solve the problem of police abuse. Of course not," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. But these are incremental steps that can and must be taken to help us make progress in reducing the abuse and the discrimination that we see day in and day out."
Communities United For Police Reform intends to support additional bills to be introduced in the City Council, which would create an Inspector General office that would oversee the NYPD and call for better reporting of demographic data related to arrests and summonses.
Other City Council members supporting the proposed legislation include Brad Lander of Brooklyn, Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan, Rosie Mendez of Manhattan, Margaret Chin of Manhattan, Julissa Ferreras of Queens, Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, Charles Barron of Brooklyn, Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan and Danny Dromm of Queens.