Heated Exchanges at Hearing on NYPD Reform

Council members traded barbs during a hearing on a package of bills that would alter NYPD operations – and includes major changes to the department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy.

City Council member Jumaane Williams, who became a vocal critic after he was detained during the West Indian Day Parade two years ago, sponsored all four proposals being discussed.

"It is long past time to address the disparate ways that this city is being policed," he said, saying they have led to a police force that acts and is perceived differently in wealthy white neighborhoods and poor minority ones. "It is truly a tale of two cities."

The problems go beyond street stops, he said, noting Muslim surveillance. But stop and frisk is "the most palpable" issue, he said.

Michael Best, counselor to the mayor, testified for the city and said the tactic is a critical element in the department's broader crime fighting strategies.

"We believe that the vast majority of officers do their jobs professionally, including when they do stop, question and frisk, and it's an important part of our strategy," Best said, calling the proposals impractical and unnecessary.

"The bills that are currently before this committee are bills that would change and conflict with existing state law," he said.

The four bills introduced earlier this year aim to reform how the controversial stop and frisk tactic is performed and increase police accountability.

Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have defended the NYPD and its use of stop and frisk, calling it a vital tactic in the city’s effort to remove guns from the street.

Last year, 684,330 people were stopped on the streets by police under the stop-and-frisk program, a record since the NYPD began tallies in 2002, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The bills in the Community Safety Act include:

Intro 799: Mandates that prior to conducting a search, NYPD officers explain to the individual that he or she has a right to consent to the search or refuse the search. Officers would be requited to obtain written or audio authorization before going forward.

801: Would require officers to indentify themselves and explain their actions

800: Amend the current definition of racial profiling and create a private right of action allowing people or organizations affected by bias-based profiling to bring a lawsuit.

881: Establish an office of inspector general for the NYPD to review polices practices, programs and operations.

Two hearings are scheduled in Brooklyn and Queens on October 23 and 24 to allow for more public comment.

A day before the Wednesday hearing, The Nation published an audio recording allegedly taken by a Harlem teen as police officers stopped and frisked him last June. In the two-minute recording, police allegedly call the teen a "f---king mutt" and threaten to break his arm.

The audio clip is part of a stop-and-frisk documentary by filmmaker Ross Tuttle.

With the Associated Press