NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The NYPD’s practice of stopping hundreds of thousands of people each year was in the spotlight Wednesday as city lawmakers considered a set of reforms that would appoint an inspector general to monitor the police department.
Besides creating an inspector general’s post, the measures would require officers to explain why they are stopping people, tell them when they have a right to refuse a search and hand out business cards identifying themselves. Another proposal would give people more latitude to sue over stops they considered biased.
1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reports
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.
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“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.”
Tempers over the issue boiled over during an emotional face-off at City Hall Wednesday. At times, it got ugly between police defenders and those who want to curtail police power, CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer reported.
Councilman Peter Vallone is opposed to allowing people to sue.
“It will blow a massive hole in the city budget and end NYPD policing as we know it by taking control of the NYPD from Ray Kelly and giving it to judges,” he said.
Pro-reform council members accused Vallone of speechifying and said he was unfair to stop them from doing it.
“If we all have to not make speeches and stick to the topic, then Peter you need to stick to the topic,” said Councilwoman Helen Foster.
“I’m sorry, I’m the chair — I respond when I want. You heard my opening statement…my opening statement was on this bill,” Vallone responded.
“I don’t work for you. I’m not one of your boys, you will not talk to me like that,” said Foster responding to Vallone.
The stop-and-frisk policy has been a hotly debated issue at City Hall with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defending the practice as a way to reduce crime and helped drive down New York’s crime rate to the lowest among the country’s 25 most populous cities, as measured by the FBI.
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.
He said three of the proposals duplicate areas already covered by state law and the department is already adequately monitored by internal affairs, the police corruption commission and the civilian complaint review board.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she wants ongoing reform, but hasn’t taken a stance on whether to support the proposals.
In stop-and-frisks, officers approach, question and sometimes pat down people police say were behaving suspiciously – acting like a lookout or carrying a pry bar, for example – but weren’t necessarily sought in any particular crime.
The stops became an integral part of the city’s law enforcement in the mid-1990s, but the numbers have risen since Bloomberg took office in 2002. Officers made a record 684,330 of the stops last year, seven times the number in 2002. They stopped about 337,000 in the first six months of this year.
“The last thing we need is to have some politician or judge getting involved with setting policy,” Bloomberg said at an unrelated news conference Monday. “Because you won’t be safe anymore. Today you are.”
But stop-and-frisk critics point to other statistics: Some 87 percent of those stopped last year involved blacks or Hispanics, and about 12 percent of the stops resulted in arrests or tickets. Opponents say the figures add up to racial profiling that does little for public safety.
“Nobody wants to stop police ability to do good police work. If they have reasonable suspicion to stop someone, they can continue to do that. What we don’t want is for them to stop people just for the color of their skin,” Williams said.
“We all want a safe city — but discriminatory policing has grown significantly in recent years. I don’t believe it actually makes us safer because it frays the bond of trust between police and the community,” said Councilman Brad Lander, a lead sponsor of the inspector general proposal, said Tuesday.
State lawmakers have already proposed a similar legislation that is stalled in Albany. The city’s public advocate has also suggested
creating the inspector general position.
It is too soon to say what laws, if any, will result from the City Council hearings on the proposals.
Earlier this year, Kelly said stop-and-frisks were down 34 percent from the first quarter of 2012 to the second quarter. He said the department is focusing on additional oversight and training to reduce the number of stops, which he said are working.
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