NEW YORK CITY HALL (PIX11) - The controversial police practice of stop and frisk may be one step closer to being a thing of the past, and the mayor and police commissioner are not only displeased, they say that the situation puts the safety of every New Yorker at risk.
The New York City Council, by votes of 41 – 8, approved two measures on Monday intended to render stop and frisk obsolete. Whether or not they will be is an open question.
What is undisputed, however, is that some NYPD practices that the department says are key to making New York the safest big city in the country are almost certain to be altered in some way.
From either side of the issue, there were contrasting events on Monday intended to draw attention to the effects of ending stop and frisk. In favor of ending the practice was a rally on the steps of City Hall organized by the sponsor of the two bills before the city council that intend to curtail stop and frisk.
“Enough is enough!” chanted Councilmember Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) at the 10:00 A.M. rally. It was attended by members of African-American, Latino, gay, Muslim, Asian and other groups united both in their opposition to stop and frisk, as well as by the two bills Williams was sponsoring.
One bill called for the creation of an inspector general position to oversee NYPD practices, including stop and frisk procedures. The other billed called for a ban on racial and gender profiling by the police department.
“If [cops] have a reasonable suspicion, if [they] have probable cause, [they] should be able to stop and question. I want that, because I want to keep my neighborhood safe,” Williams told PIX11 News. “[But] what’s been happening now is lazy policing,” he said, and he cited stop and frisk quotas, and shrunken police rosters as reasons for high numbers of stop and frisk incidents in particularly crime-ridden neighborhoods. Police dispute all claims of stop and frisk quotas.
In stark contrast to the rally supporting the anti-stop and frisk legislation was a news conference at One Police Plaza, police headquarters. The mayor had called together the district attorneys of Queens and Staten Island, along with the long-serving former Manhattan district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, to join with police union officials and top NYPD brass to declare the dangers of installing an inspector general and ending stop and frisk.
“Take heart, Al Qaeda wannabes, because the city council has found away to undermine our partners,” said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
In addition to a sharp difference of opinion between the mayor’s news conference and the city councilmember’s rally, there was a clear visual contrast between the two. The rally was a coalition of a broad spectrum of ethnic, religious, gender and educational backgrounds, while the news conference was comprised of white males, with the exception of the NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks III, who had to leave before the news conference was over.
All of the men who stood with Mayor Bloomberg were distinguished professionals, but it was a glaring irony to see the group of white men in suits and ties calling for maintaining a practice that was being challenged specifically for being racially biased.
PIX11 asked the mayor if he thought that his presentation could backfire. “Why would it backfire?” he asked in response. “You’re safer when you go out on the street.”
No matter the racial or gender makeup of the principal speakers at the news conference, all of them strongly felt that the measures before the city council, if passed, will make it tougher for cops to do their jobs.
“The most dangerous thing for a cop is doubt in his or her decision,” said Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. He said that the measures would raise street cops’ doubts about targeting suspicious people on the street. “This law will make it more violent in our communities,” Lynch said, “and will make it more dangerous for our police officers.”
But Councilmember Williams, the main sponsor of the bills, said that his legislation was designed to improve the NYPD, rather than make the department worse.
“It’s a pat down,” Williams said about stop and frisk encounters. He said that his legislation to end the practice stems from his concern that officers are currently allowed, under NYPD policy, to search a person if police observe the person making “furtive movements,” according to police manuals. Officers can also search a person if there’s strong evidence the person may be hiding a gun. That may constitute probable cause, but anything in the range between furtive glances and probable cause is fair game, Williams said, and he feels it’s wrong.
In the end, an overwhelming majority of the city council agreed with him, voting by a margin of over 5-1 for both of the items of legislation Williams penned.
Facing the possibility of the measures passing, Mayor Bloomberg was adamant that the bills do not put the city in a favorable light as far as safety is concerned, and would put the city on the road to reversing the significant strides it has made over the last three decades in reducing crime.
“We’d become the laughingstock to the world if we had something that really worked, and we turned it around,” said the mayor at his news conference.
The inspector general and profiling ban measures are not law by any means. Monday’s vote only permitted the two items of legislation to come out of the council’s public safety committee, where they had been held by Chairman Peter Vallone, Jr. The bills now are allowed to go before the council as a whole, which is expected to vote on the measures Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.
The inspector general legislation, which has the support of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, is expected to pass by a margin so great that it cannot be vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg. The anti-profiling measure is also expected to pass, but perhaps by not enough of a margin to prevent it from being vetoed.
“The commissioner and mayor have done good things.with policing,” Williams told PIX11 News, but, he said, that the emphasis on and protection of stop and frisk by the city’s top law enforcer and chief executive are flawed. “They have to admit,” said Williams, “that not everything [they've] done has worked.”