NYPD Dodges Another Legislative Attempt To Inject Accountability And Transparency Into Its Daily Work
from the the-teflon-army dept
Law enforcement officers are pretty used to being able to stop nearly anyone and demand to know who they are and what they're doing. Sure, there are plenty of laws that say they can't actually do that, but the public is generally underinformed about their rights, and this works in cops' favor. As a recent Appeals Court decision pointed out, citizens are "free to refuse to cooperate with police before a seizure."
Obviously, this perfectly legal act of noncompliance just won't do, and it certainly won't be cops pointing out to citizens the rights they have available to them. New York City legislators thought they could force this transparency on the NYPD.
The bills, known as the Right to Know Act, require officers to identify and explain themselves when they stop people, and to make sure people know when they can refuse to be searched. These are timely, sensible ideas, echoing recommendations made by President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing. Though the Right to Know Act has been bottled up in the Council for two years, it has broad support among Council members and community organizations, and sponsors say it would pass easily if it ever came to a vote.
It may have "broad support," but it didn't have support where it counts. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton expressed his displeasure with the idea of his officers having to respect the rights of citizens.
Mr. Bratton has denounced the Right to Know Act as an “unprecedented” intrusion into his domain.
As Scott Greenfield points out, Bratton could have dialed back his righteous indignation and applied these changes on his own.
Of course, there is nothing to prevent New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton from telling his cops to do this anyway. But he didn’t. He won’t. It’s not as if he serves at the pleasure of New York’s most progressive mayor ever. But the big issue for Bratton isn’t that the ideas incorporated in the law are so dangerous and counterproductive, but cops just don’t like being told what they have to do.
"Broad support." "Would pass easily." None of this matters. The person in charge of routing pending legislation made this decision for the rest of the legislators who support the bill in its unaltered form.
But there has been no vote. The Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, essentially derailed it this month. She told members that she had quietly struck a compromise with the Police Department to adopt some, but not all, of the act’s reforms administratively. Under the deal, officers who want to search people but have no legal basis to stop them must ask permission and wait to hear “yes” or “no.” They have to explain that a person can refuse to be searched, and give a business card to people who are searched or stopped at a checkpoint or to anyone who asks.
Waiting for the NYPD to "adopt" reforms is like waiting to adopt a child. Days become weeks become months become years. Three years after Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered the NYPD to alter its unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program, officers still weren't fully informed of the new guidelines. The NYPD's "quiet adoption" of the agreement is more in line with dumping it into a foster home run by negligent caretakers.
The government has long depended on the ignorance of the citizens to maintain control. The killing of this legislation -- and Bratton's agreement to make it watered-down internal policy rather than actual law -- is more of the same. The less the public knows about what the police can or cannot demand from them, the more often this ignorance will be exploited by people with power.