NYPD officers may soon have to identify themselves first and then explain why someone is being stopped and questioned under a new bill introduced last week in the City Council.
According to the bill, also known as the Right to Know Act, officers are also required to tell people that they can refuse a search if there is no probable cause or a warrant. When searches are conducted, there must be objective proof of the individual’s voluntary and informed consent, lawmakers said.
“While Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement about curbing marijuana arrests is a step in the right direction, none of the policies set forth so far have dealt with the on-the-ground interactions between police and people, particularly the young men of color who are targeted at the highest rates,” said City Councilman Ritchie Torres, a lead co-sponsor of the bill. “The Right to Know Act will go a long way toward improving these interactions. This legislation requires the police to obtain voluntary and informed consent in order to conduct searches, ensuring that all people are aware of their rights.”
Councilman Antonio Reynoso, the other lead co-sponsor of the bill, argued that youths of color are targeted for stops at much higher rates than the rest of the population, which, he said, is also supported by statistics. Reynoso said the bill is a step in the right direction to help both the NYPD and civilians.
“It will help to ensure that all New Yorkers are aware of their right to consent to or refuse a search in the absence of legal justification for the search,” said the freshman lawmaker. “Most New Yorkers are not aware that they have this constitutional right. The Right to Know Act will also require officers to identify themselves in law enforcement encounters, which is a simple way to improve police-community relations.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who ran a mayoral campaign to curb the use of stop-and-frisk, which a federal judge ruled unconstitutional, said he has “concerns” with the bill.
“We obviously have to protect the rights of our people, but we also have to make sure that we’re not, in any way, undermining the ability of law enforcement to do its job,” he said. “So I have some concerns that I need to hear answered in this process.”
At another press conference, when asked if he will veto the bill, de Blasio said he has “a very, very good partnership with the City Council. Any piece of legislation, we say from the beginning, we’re going to talk it through and work it through. And a lot of times legislation changes in the course of that process.”
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not announced her position on the proposed measure. Reports say she has yet to review the proposal. Meanwhile, Police Commissioner William Bratton and the city’s police unions said they do not support the bill. The city’s top cop said the council is “continuing efforts to bridle” his department’s policy and procedures.
“It would give the public a false impression that they have the ability to not respond to the police, and we already have too much of that underway at the moment,” he said.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said the proposal makes it clear that the “council is more interested in protecting criminals than keeping communities safe.”
“This is the exact kind of poorly conceived idea from this City Council that starts with the belief that aggressively fighting crime to keep communities safe is a bad thing,” Lynch said. “Police officers are trained to observe a set of facts and to use them to determine if there is suspicious and possibly criminal activity afoot.”
The proposed bill is being pushed by the Communities United for Police Reform, which also advocated for the passage of the Community Safety Act, a landmark legislative package that aimed to end discriminatory policing and bring accountability to the NYPD.
Priscilla Gonzalez, spokesperson for group, said the Right to Know Act will help ensure that New Yorkers know the officers interacting with them and prevent unlawful searches.
“Interactions with the police often escalate and lead to tension, and in some cases violence, because New Yorkers have no idea why they are being questioned, stopped or searched, and officers don’t communicate their identity or purpose when interacting with them,” she said. “This legislation will go a long way toward rebuilding trust between police officers and New Yorkers in communities of color across the city.”