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NYPD Reform Advocates and New York City Council Members Announce New Legislation to Improve Communication between Police and Residents

The Right to Know Act, new commonsense legislation introduced in the City Council, will improve communication between police officers and residents, and defuse conflict before it escalates. It is designed to rebuild trust between communities of color and the NYPD.
New Yorkers often have no idea why they are being questioned, stopped or searched, and don’t feel empowered to ask the identity of police officers interacting with them.
The Right to Know Act, legislation introduced today by Council Members Ritchie Torres and Antonio Reynoso, would help solve that problem. It has strong support from Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), community groups, local residents, and advocates.
Modeled on similar policies already working in other states, the Right to Know Act will help officers and residents communicate with each other more effectively, and defuse conflict before it escalates. Local residents and police officers will benefit from this improved communication.
Amid growing concern over people of color still being disproportionately searched and harassed by NYPD officers, New York City Council Members and police reform advocates today unveiled the Right to Know Act at a City Hall press conference and lively rally.
The Right to Know Act will do two key things that are beneficial for civilians and officers: 1) require NYPD officers to identify themselves and explain their reason for subjecting a civilian to law enforcement activity and 2) require explanation of New Yorkers’ constitutional right to refuse a search when no legal basis exists for it except their consent. When such searches are conducted, there must be objective proof of the individual’s voluntary and informed consent.
City Council Members, NYPD reform advocates, and community leaders praised the legislation and cited the urgency and necessity of it. Supporters of the Right to Know Act encouraged Commissioner Bratton, Mayor de Blasio, and all city officials to embrace it as crucial reform.
"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. 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,” said City Council Member Ritchie Torres, Deputy Leader and a lead co-sponsor of the bill.
“Although some recent progress has been made toward improving community-police relations, the experience on the ground for many young people of color has not changed. Even recent statistics show that young people of color are targeted for stops at much higher rates than the rest of the population. Today, we are introducing legislation to help 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. 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,” said City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a lead co-sponsor of the bill.
“All New Yorkers deserve better policing and safer streets. Everyone deserves to feel that their public safety and civil rights are protected. 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. We all deserve that,” said City Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Deputy Leader and co-chair of the Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence.
“The 'Right to Know Act' embodies the NYPD motto of courtesy, professionalism, respect. The small acts -- police officers identifying themselves, explaining the reason for a stop, and making sure individuals know their rights before a search -- have the potential to significantly reduce abuses and bring major improvements to community-police relations. As part of the coalition that came together to pass the first Community Safety Act, I applaud this step forward toward respecting the rights and enhancing the safety of all New Yorkers," said Brad Lander, New York City Council Member and Deputy Leader.
“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. The Right to Know Act will help ensure that New Yorkers know the officers interacting with them, and prevent the NYPD’s use of unlawful searches. This legislation will go a long way toward rebuilding trust between police officers and New Yorkers in communities of color across the city,” said Priscilla Gonzalez, spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform.
"Too many young New Yorkers are fearful of asking police officers for their identifying information. This legislation, requiring identification and a reason for the stop, will help to prevent physical force that we too often deal with for asking these questions,” said Justin Rosado, 19 year-old youth leader at Make the Road New York.
"Far too many people from Ferguson to New York City have been searched and humiliated during searches supposedly based on our consent, but really based on lack of information and intimidation," said Chris Bilal of Streetwise and Safe (SAS). "These searches have changed LGBTQ youth's lives forever - whether the result was a misdemeanor marijuana charge, a charge of loitering for the purposes of prostitution based on a condom found in our pocket, or an illegal "gender search." LGBTQ youth have the right to know and exercise our right to not consent to a search that has no other legal basis."
“The Right to Know Act is the next step in closing the book on New York's tale of two cities and creating a single community that trusts, respects and is protected by the NYPD," said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "This legislation promotes fair and just policing that will help mend police-community relations and promote public safety for all New Yorkers.”
"Illegal searches by the NYPD lead to unnecessary and demeaning interactions between communities of color and the police. They perpetuate biased arrests and summonses, particularly for low-level marijuana possession, and create distrust between police officers and the communities they serve. The Right to Know Act will improve policing practices in New York City and promote police encounters that are constitutional, fair, and respectful," said Alyssa Aguilera, Political Director, VOCAL-NY.
“The Right To Know Act is a critical piece of legislation to ensure greater protection for LGBTQ and HIV-affected people.  At AVP we know that LGBTQ people of color and transgender and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately impacted by police violence because of their perceived or actual gender identity, sexual orientation and racial identity. This legislation creates greater NYPD accountability for the NYPD and ensures greater safety for all New Yorkers,” said Shelby Chestnut, Co-Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
"On a daily basis, members of the communities in which we work experience a range of abuse at the hands of the NYPD," said Loyda Colon, Co-Director of the Justice Committee. "Frequently, when people assert their right to ask for an officer's identity, they are arrested and often assaulted as well. The Right to Know Act is commonsense legislation that will have an immediate impact on the way NYPD officers treat members of our community."
"Without the 'Consent to Search' bill, police will continue to violate our rights. The ID bill help us hold the right people accountable when they do." , said Ryan Gibbs, member, Picture the Homeless
"I was stopped in the subway station and made to untuck my shirt, take off my shoes and socks and empty my pockets, as if I had no rights and no liberty. To get this bill passed would mean so much more than just a lowered statistic; it would help stop the day to day criminalization of our communities," said Nilesh Vishwashrao, Member of DRUM - South Asian Organizing Center.
"We support the Right to Know Act and believe it is imperative as part of larger police reform efforts. NYPD has the right to do their work within the confines of the law and New Yorkers have the right to information about officer and how to make a complaint if necessary. We believe this will help send a strong message to communities that NYPD is willing to compromise and ensure a truly safe and just process for all those they interact with,” said Linda Sarsour, Executive Director, Arab American Association of New York.
“Police officers too often take advantage of our communities lack of understanding about their right to refuse searches and their right to insist on the officer's identification. The proposed legislation seeks to limit the NYPD's ability to take advantage of this lack of knowledge. It will improve the quality of police-civilian street encounters by requiring the police officers to educate people immediately during an encounter. This will lead to improved police-community relations and, ultimately, a safer city,” said  Justine Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice, Legal Aid Society.
"The Right to Know Act Act will ensure that New Yorkers are no longer tricked into consenting into unlawful searches, and work to ensure that searches are consensual -- essential changes that we need urgently now in light of recent incidents of brutality," said Nahal Zamani, Advocacy Program Manager with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).


About Communities United for Police Reform

Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment.

CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.

Learn more:
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Topics: Right to Know Act