Public Safety, Policing & Crime
Last updated October 15, 2013
New York City crime rates have been dropping significantly for years, yet policing tactics are very much under scrutiny, and have become a controversial part of the conversation during the 2013 New York City election cycle. The policing tactics in question include the NYPD’s use of “stop-question-and-frisk” or “stop and frisk”, and the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims and Muslim community centers. A federal court case in the Southern District of New York (Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al.) has recently brought public attention to these issues, in particular to the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy, and the allegedly unconstitutional manner in which it is implemented, leading to charges that the NYPD regularly engages in racial profiling. It appears possible that the judge will order federal oversight of the NYPD.
On June 27, 2013, two of the four bills that comprise the New York City Council’s Community Safety Act (“CSA”) were passed by the body of the City Council with “veto-proof” majorities. In its entirety, the CSA is a package of landmark police reform legislation that consists of four bills its backers say are aimed at ending discriminatory policing and bringing oversight and accountability to the NYPD.
The two bills that passed on June 27 were Intro No. 1079 and Intro No. 1080. In order for them to become law, they must be signed by the mayor, or, in what is the likely scenario, vetoed by the mayor and passed by a two-thirds city council veto override vote.
Intro No. 1079 has also been called the “IG Bill” because it creates an Inspector General, or “IG”, at the head of a new independent oversight office of the NYPD and its Commissioner. The IG Bill passed by a vote of 40 to 11, and is popular among many of the Democratic mayoral candidates, with the notable exceptions of Anthony Weiner and Bill Thompson, who has received the endorsements of the law enforcement unions. The law, slated to take effect January 1, 2014, assigns responsibility for NYPD oversight to the Department of Investigation, where the Inspector General’s office would be housed and which oversees many other city agencies. The IG will be tasked with issuing public reports and recommendations regarding the policies and practices of the NYPD.
Intro No. 1080 establishes a stronger ban on racial profiling in policing, and creates a private right of action against the NYPD and any officers who have engaged in bias-based profiling. This policy was specifically drafted to address the NYPD’s controversial use of “stop and frisk,” and the preamble of the law states that it was borne out of the City Council’s “concern about the NYPD’s growing reliance on stop-and-frisk tactics and the impact of this practice on communities of color.” The bill passed by a vote of 34-17, which means it would survive a mayoral veto if a the results of an override vote were the same. But, any fewer than 34 in favor and 1080 would not become law in an override vote.
Mayor Bloomberg has indeed vowed to veto both Intros 1079 and 1080, despite both of the bills’ overwhelming support amongst New York residents and City Council Members. While the IG Bill has more than enough support to override the mayor’s veto, the fate of the racial profiling bill is less certain, since Mayor Bloomberg only needs to sway one council member to change his or her vote to have his veto sustained. Bloomberg has pledged to use his deep coffers to help fund elections of those council members who would change their votes or to defeat those that do not. Despite this fact, it remains likely that the 34 members who supported the racial profiling bill will continue to support it, and the mayor’s veto will be merely symbolic.
On the mayoral campaign trail, candidates are often asked questions related to the aforementioned NYPD tactics, and about whether they would attempt to retain Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is largely assigned responsibility for the city’s reduction in crime and the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk. In general, the Republican mayoral candidates are far less critical of Kelly and these controversial tactics employed by the NYPD. The Democratic candidates for mayor have all said that stop-and-frisk practices must be addressed, with most calling for serious changes to the policy and its practice, and only Comptroller John Liu calling for completely ending it. Thus far, Christine Quinn has said she would keep Ray Kelly on as Police Commissioner and Bill Thompson has said he will consider it, with Liu and de Blasio pledging to replace him, and no concrete answer from Anthony Weiner on the subject. Meanwhile, opinions on the creation of the Inspector General position are also mixed.
The topic of gun control has also been in the news as Mayor Bloomberg continues to advocate for tougher gun control legislation both in New York and around the country.
One other public safety topic that has been a part of the public discourse is the rise in anti-gay hate crimes that the city has experiences over the last three-plus years. Despite the fact that these statistics are dropping drastically nationally, New York City has seen a rise in anti-gay attacks since 2010.
Key Questions to Consider:
- What should be done with the NYPD’s stop-question-and-frisk practice?
- In their efforts to prevent terrorism in New York City, should the NYPD be singling out Muslims for special scrutiny and surveillance?
- Should Ray Kelly remain as NYPD Police Commissioner?
- Should the position of Inspector General of the NYPD be created?
- How can New York City reduce the number of anti-gay hate crimes, which has been on the rise since 2010?
Resources for More Information
- The New York City Police Department (NYPD)
- American Civil Liberties Union – New York
- Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP)
- Communities United for Police Reform (Change the NYPD)
- Counterpoint Opinion Pieces on Racial Profiling in the Wake of the George Zimmerman Verdict: