Earlier this week, the New York Times broke the news that New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito would be working with the NYPD to revise the administrative regulations contained in the NYPD’s Patrol Guide in an attempt to avoid a democratic vote on the Right to Know (RTK) Act, a package of legislation that would protect the civil and human rights of all New Yorkers during everyday interactions with the NYPD.
CCR have been assisting our partners who have been working diligently to gain majority support among legislators for the two bills that make up the Act, building on the passage of the Community Safety Act a few years ago. As I shared in a blog last year, if passed, the RTK Act would require police officers to identify themselves during encounters and to record that an individuall has provided voluntary consent before an officer searches her. The bills would complement a comprehensive set of reforms being considered in the Joint Remedial Process in our stop and frisk lawsuit, Floyd v. the City of New York.
This Wednesday, the policing campaign, Communities United for Police Reform, leaders in the police accountability movement, and elected officials gathered to urge a steadfast commitment to the RTK Act and for its passage.
Administrative regulations can be weak – both in form and in implementation. The contemplated Patrol Guide changes do not cover the breadth of encounters with the NYPD that would be covered under the Act. Also, the agreement with the Speaker reportedly will not include important provisions from the RTK that (1) would require objective proof of an individual’s consent for a search (2) would require the NYPD to report on the frequency of searches and who is subject to them—information that would be critical to assess the disparate impact on certain communities, including racial disparities and (3) would require officers to provide a reason for encounters.
Unlike legislation, changes to police administrative rules can easily be eliminated at any time by the police commissioner, or by future commissioners. And even when Patrol Guide changes are enacted, that does not guarantee the changes are actually implemented in practice. Indeed, the NYPD Patrol Guide already requires officers to identify themselves, but officers frequently don’t and retaliate against civilians who request their identification, a phenomenon CCR documented in our 2012 Report, Stop and Frisk: The Human Impact. Without the force of legislation, those who are subjected to abusive policing have little recourse.
Accountability is vital for any police reform proposal. The City Council could exercise oversight over compliance if the RTK Act was signed into law. Without the passage of legislation, the City Council, and therefore the public, is excluded from overseeing the implementation of the proposed changes.
Moreover, the compromise erodes the legislative process—the process that City Council members themselves pledged to uphold as many of them were elected into office, along with Mayor de Blasio, under a promise to uphold sweeping and transformative changes to policing. Unlike legislation, which must be subject to a public debate process and rigorous analysis before its passage, the proposed administrative agreement was brokered entirely behind closed doors.
CCR wants comprehensive, sweeping changes in New York City policing, with the power of oversight that the legislature and courts afford. In Floyd, the court-ordered reform process includes and independent monitor; were the RTK Act to pass, the City Council would have oversight over its implementation.
We will continue to update you on the status of these bills and the Right to Know in New York.