Days after Council, Mayor Add 1,300 Cops in Budget, Calls for Council to Pass Right to Know Act Police Reforms Grow Louder at Hearing
New York, NY – Following a week where the City Council adopted a budget that adds 1,300 new positions within the NYPD, community groups and elected officials called for passage of the Right to Know Act at a Council Public Safety Committee hearing on several pieces of legislation related to the NYPD.
“All New Yorkers should have the right know who is stopping them and why they are being stopped, and should be able to exercise their right to decline improper searches by police officers when there is no probable cause or other legal justification,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, a lead sponsor of the Right to Know Act. “The upcoming anniversary of Eric Garner’s death brings renewed focus to improving the fractured relationship between communities and the NYPD. The Right to Know Act, a commonsense package of bills will reinforce best practices around transparency and accountability while upholding basic civil and human rights. These bills already have strong support in the Council and should be passed into law as swiftly as possible.”
“When Mayor de Blasio announced that the City will be adding 1,300 new officers to the NYPD, he stressed a commitment to improving community-police relations,” said City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, lead sponsor of Intro 541. “Passing the Right-to-Know Act would be a major step toward this commitment, as it would dramatically improve the experience of those who are stopped by the police, who we know are disproportionately young people of color. Intro 541 will help ensure that all New Yorkers are aware of their right to consent to or refuse a search, in the absence of a legal justification for the search. Most New Yorkers are not aware that they have this constitutional right. Additionally, Intro 182 will require officers to identify themselves and explain the reason for a stop. These simple changes will empower the public with information, and help avoid unnecessary escalation of police-community interactions.”
Diverse communities throughout New York City have been calling for the Council to demonstrate national leadership by passing the Right to Know Act as common sense legislation that can help protect New Yorkers and improve accountability and transparency in their most common interactions with NYPD officers.
“New York should set a national example of how cities and states across the country should respond to the recommendations of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing,” said Jose Lopez, Lead Organizer at Make the Road New York and a member of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “The New York City Council has an opportunity to be at the forefront in our state and nation by passing the Right to Know Act, whose provisions were recommended in our report as crucial to improving policing, transparency and accountability. When community stakeholders, police officials and law enforcement experts agree, elected officials should put politics aside and act swiftly to pass these sensible reforms.”
President Obama’s national Task Force on 21st Century Policing – which was co-chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, included the Tucson police chief, law enforcement experts and community stakeholders – endorsed the policy reforms of the Right to Know Act as ones that should be adopted throughout the country.
- The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policy made the following recommendation in the Policy and Oversight section of its final report, which matches The Right to Know Act’s Introduction 541:
“2.10 RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement officers should be required to seek consent before a search and explain that a person has the right to refuse consent when there is no warrant or probable cause. Furthermore, officers should ideally obtain written acknowledgement that they have sought consent to a search in these circumstances.”
- The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policy made the following recommendation in the Policy and Oversight section of its final report, which matches The Right to Know Act’s Introduction 182:
“2.11 RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement agencies should adopt policies requiring officers to identify themselves by their full name, rank, and command (as applicable) and provide that information in writing to individuals they have stopped. In addition, policies should require officers to state the reason for the stop and the reason for the search if one is conducted.”
Community, advocacy and legal groups from across the city made it clear that the Right to Know Act was their priority amongst the several pieces of legislation heard at the Council hearing, with dozens testifying in support and calling for its swift passage.
“The Right to Know Act will raise the quality of life for all New Yorkers,” said 32BJ Secretary-Treasurer Kyle Bragg. “32BJ supports this legislation because it will promote public safety while ensuring that our members, their families and neighbors are treated fairly and respectfully by the police.”
“The Right to Know Act is essential to rebuild trust between police and New Yorkers following decades of overly aggressive policing targeting our communities of color,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We cannot wait for another tragedy like Eric Garner or Akai Gurley to acknowledge how police encounters have the potential to escalate into tragedy. New York City needs communication, transparency and accountability in everyday interactions between police officers and the people they are supposed to protect and serve.”
The Right to Know Act, introduced in the New York City Council in November 2014 by Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Ritchie Torres, consists of two pieces of legislation to increase transparency and protect civilians’ rights during the most common interactions between civilians and police officers. The first bill would require police officers to identify themselves and explain their reason for subjecting a civilian to law enforcement activity. The second bill would uphold a civilian’s Constitutional right to refuse a search when the only legal basis for it is a person’s consent by requiring officers to convey that right and receive proof of consent. The bills are modeled on similar requirements already working in other states and will help officers and residents by addressing the communications and transparency gap in basic interactions that too often unnecessarily escalate because of a lack of information and respect for the fundamental rights of New Yorkers.
“When the Council passed the Community Safety Act in 2013, we worked to make sure that we were advancing both public safety and civil rights. The Right to Know Act is the next legislative step in this important conversation,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “This bill does not attempt to change the legal requirements for a search or a stop, but instead to move forward with the Council’s-ongoing dialogue about improving the relationship between the NYPD and the community. Thanks to Council Member Torres and Reynoso for sponsoring this legislation, and to Speaker Mark-Viverito and Chair Gibson for holding today’s hearing.”
All too often, New Yorkers have no idea why they’re being questioned or stopped by an officer, or even the identity of the officer subjecting them to law enforcement activity. Civilians can find themselves subjected to police brutality or disrespectful behavior simply for asking officers to identify themselves, even though the NYPD Patrol Guide requires officers to provide their name, rank, shield number and command when asked.
“Every New Yorker deserves to feel that their public safety and civil rights are protected,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), Deputy Leader. “That was the mission of the Community Safety Act which I co-sponsored and that passed in 2013, and is the mission of the Right to Know Act, led by Council Members Torres and Reynoso. These bills do not change the framework cops need to engage in good policing, and does not change the existing legal requirements of probable cause for a search and reasonable suspicion for a stop. These bills are simply meant to continue the Council’s discussion about how the NYPD can engage in better and equitable police practices in all communities across the city. I would like to thank Speaker Mark-Viverito and Public Safety Chair Gibson for holding today’s important hearing.”
It is problematic that many New Yorkers continue to be unlawfully searched by NYPD officers, a trend that the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s most recent annual report cited as increasing. Most New Yorkers are unaware that they have the right to refuse a search when an officer does not have legal justification for the search (a warrant, probable cause or when a person is under arrest), or they are uncomfortable exercising those rights because of the power imbalance that exists between civilians and a police officer with a gun. New Yorkers’ experiences also demonstrate that officers routinely conduct searches without legal justification, either by assuming consent, deceiving New Yorkers into consent by ordering that they empty their pockets, or simply searching belongings without explanation.
“The Right to Know Act is the kind of common sense legislation that benefits both the police and the general public, and if followed correctly has the potential to de-escalate countless tense situations,” said Edward Rush, NY State Legislative Director of the Working Families Organization. “New York Working Families strongly urges all members of the City Council to vote ‘yes’ for the Right to Know Act.”
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