Stop-and-frisk: NYC council overrides Bloomberg vetoes, curbing policy

The override votes establish as law permanent checks on stop-and-frisk, a tactic Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have called a matter of 'life and death.'

Seth Wenig/AP
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (l.) speaks while Police Commissioner Ray Kelly looks on during a news conference in New York, Aug. 12, 2013. NYC City Council voted Thursday to override Bloomberg's vetoes of two measures designed to curtail the city's use of stop-and-frisk.

In another blow to the crime-fighting legacy of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the City Council voted Thursday to override his earlier vetoes of two measures designed to curtail the city’s use of stop-and-frisk.

The override votes come less than two weeks after a US District Court ruled the New York Police Department’s signature crime-fighting tool was being employed in an unconstitutional manner.

The federal judge found the city’s practice of stop-and-frisk – in which officers stop and sometimes search anyone they believe may be involved in criminal activity – illegally targeted minorities and unreasonably subjected citizens to searches. The city is appealing the ruling.

But Thursday’s override votes establish as law permanent checks on a tactic Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have described as a matter of “life and death.” The two measures, known together as the Community Safety Act, attempt to reign in what lawmakers earlier perceived as ongoing abuses of the tactic.

One of the measures creates a permanent independent inspector general, who would be a new officer in the city’s Department of Investigation. The inspector general would monitor police policies, conduct investigations, and recommend changes.

The federal judge, Shira Scheindlin, has already appointed a temporary independent monitor to oversee changes in NYPD policies. She also ordered some police precincts to use body-worn cameras during their use of stop-and-frisk. This federal oversight runs for a year.

The other City Council measure allows citizens to sue the NYPD in state court if they believe they have been illegally profiled. This includes not only instances of individual profiling, but also class actions from any groups of minorities who feel illegally targeted by police. The law also expands the definitions of such groups to include age, gender, housing status, and sexual orientation.

"Make no mistake: the communities that will feel the most negative impacts of these bills will be minority communities across our city, which have been the greatest beneficiaries of New York City’s historic crime reductions," Bloomberg said in a statement after the vote.

"Both bills outsource management of the NYPD to unaccountable officials, making it harder for the next mayor and police commissioner to make the decisions they believe necessary to keep our city safe," he continued. "Today’s vote is an example of election year politics at its very worst and political pandering at its most deadly."

With the mayoral primary weeks away, the override comes as a rebuke to the outgoing administration, which has doubled down on stop-and-frisk despite intense opposition from minority groups and civil liberties activists. 

The council voted 39 to 10 to override Bloomberg’s veto of the inspector general bill, and 34 to 15 on the expanded ability to sue the NYPD.

“I worry for my kids and I worry for your kids. I worry for you and I worry for me,” Bloomberg said after the federal judge issued her ruling last week. “Crime can come back any time the criminals think they can get away with things. We just cannot let that happen.”

And when NBC "Meet the Press" host David Gregory asked Commissioner Kelly whether "people will die" if the city abandons its stop-and-frisk policies, Kelly responded, "No question about it, violent crime will go up.”

"This is something that's integral to policing,” he continued. “This happens throughout America in any police jurisdiction. You have to do it.”

Critics say the administration’s intransigence on the issue has caused needless conflict.  

“Rather than recognize that there was serious problems with the policy, they’re just digging their heels in,” says Randolph McLaughlin, co-chair of the civil rights practice group at Newman Ferrara LLP in New York. “But what’s really silly, to be frank, is this notion that, ‘we’re going to appeal this decision,’ when the person who’s appealing it will be out of office in January. I seriously doubt that if any of the Democrats come in, they will continue the appeal. So it’s really more wasting of the city’s scarce resources.”

Democratic candidates for mayor came out forcefully against the stop-and-frisk policy in a spirited debate Wednesday evening.

The new laws will take effect in January, 2014, when a new mayor is sworn in.

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