Council got played in its deal with the police

We need a law, not the NYPD's word, to change the way cops search New Yorkers
August 16, 2016
Monifa Bandele
Crain's New York

[Letter to the Editor]

To the Editor:

Richard Aborn’s op-ed “Give the NYPD a chance to reform itself” is perplexing, describing City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s backroom deal as both weaker than what the speaker has portrayed and stronger than its factual impact. Either he is confused or being disingenuous.

The speaker’s deal does not “adopt most” of the Right to Know Act as Mr. Aborn insinuates. In fact, it adopts very little because it has removed the most important reforms, including those highlighted by Mr. Aborn as recommended by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (which he misnames and incorrectly implies took a position opposed to legislation).

The backroom deal removes nearly all of the non-emergency types of law enforcement interactions where police would be required to identify themselves per the legislation, and removes the requirement for officers to explain their rationale for engaging a New Yorker in such an activity. The legislation’s real reforms related to searches that require officers to give affirmative instruction that a person has the right to decline a consent search and obtain objective proof of consent are stripped out of the deal. Thus, the deal maintains the status quo that people will be coerced into unlawful searches when the only legal basis for the search is the person’s consent.

So what’s left in the backroom deal? The NYPD’s promise to alter words in its over 2,000-page patrol guide and training, both of which already include these very topics and have failed to prevent these abuses. Mr. Aborn’s claim that officers will soon have to identify themselves (and give a card) when asked is not quite true of the deal. However, officers are already required by NYPD rules to identify themselves when asked, but it simply doesn’t happen. That’s why legislation must be passed: These rules have existed for years without being followed by officers, with no consequence. Similarly, administrative rules have also failed to prevent officers from continuing to use the chokehold that killed Eric Garner in 2014, despite it being prohibited by the NYPD for over 20 years.

By Mr. Aborn’s logic, we should simply have no laws and live by voluntary rules in society. Or does that only apply to the police, and not ordinary civilians?

New Yorkers should be wary when people, privileged to be exempt from police abuse because of their race, economic status or other entitlement, purport to us that “police-community relations” are “improving.”

The reality is that these police abuses against our communities have existed for decades—they didn’t start with stop-and-frisk, nor end with its reduction—and they continue, just like the vast racial disparities in police enforcement, summonses and arrests that continue in New York. For Richard Aborn to tell our communities to simply continue enduring such abuse is insulting.

The council speaker’s backroom deal fails to address the fundamental abuses that the legislation—designed based upon direct experiences of people facing this abuse—would help to protect against because it has been stripped of any substance. Simply editing a few words that are already ignored is not reform.

Laws governing the city agencies that our tax dollars fund are not “scolding mandates,” they’re meant to ensure conduct that is beneficial, not harmful to the public through the power and transparency of law. We don’t voluntarily pass budgets, building-safety, business or consumer-protection codes. The idea of private, voluntary compliance for an agency with the authority to take our lives and liberty—and has historically done so unjustly far too often—is simply irrational.

It’s unclear why Mr. Aborn is misrepresenting the speaker’s backroom deal in opposite ways, but maybe the lack of transparency associated with such deals outside of public view has left him confused or misinformed.

The City Council is a legislative body, with members elected to represent their communities through independent legislative oversight. The growing coalition of over 200 organizations from diverse City Council districts is demanding the council demonstrate leadership by passing the Right to Know Act, just as it does other legislation. The public deserves that and our communities can no longer afford to wait for the protections that the legislation would provide and an empty backroom deal for voluntary compliance fails to deliver.

Monifa Bandele
Communities United for Police Reform



Topics: Right to Know Act