City Council Overrides Veto for New NYPD Oversight Bills

The measures mark the most aggressive legislative effort in years to put new checks on the NYPD

By Jennifer Peltz
|  Thursday, Aug 22, 2013  |  Updated 8:32 PM EDT
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The City Council Thursday overrode Mayor Bloomberg's vetoes of new  stop-and-frisk provisions, clearing the way for independent oversight of the controversial practice.  Checkey Beckford reports.

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The City Council Thursday overrode Mayor Bloomberg's vetoes of new stop-and-frisk provisions, clearing the way for independent oversight of the controversial practice. Checkey Beckford reports.

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The City Council on Thursday overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg's vetoes to create a watchdog for the nation's biggest police department and make it easier to file profiling claims against officers amid applause from supporters and angry warnings from opponents.

Bloomberg, who had slapped down the legislation earlier this summer, said the new oversight at the New York Police Department will make it "harder for our police officers to protect New Yorkers and continue to drive down crime."

"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," he said in a statement.

But proponents see the oversight as a check on a police force that's come under scrutiny for its heavy use of a tactic known as stop and frisk and its extensive surveillance of Muslims.

Douglas Bryant, an educator from the Bronx who said he's been unfairly stopped by police a couple of times, went to City Hall to watch the council's vote.

"I hope this will give the police some sense that our voice can be heard sometimes, such as today," Bryant said.

A packed spectators' gallery erupted in cheers when the vote was announced. Later, supporters exchanged hugs outside.

"Today marks a monumental civil rights victory for New Yorkers," Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, legislation sponsors, said in a statement. "New Yorkers now know that police officers will now 'serve and protect' all New York City residents, regardless of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation."

The profiling bill passed with the minimum votes necessary, 34-15, while the inspector general proposal passed 39-10.

The measures mark the most aggressive legislative effort in years to put new checks on the NYPD. The vote came less than two weeks after U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin's order for an outside monitor to reform stop and frisk, a practice she said the department had used in a way that violated the rights of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men. The city is appealing.

Civil rights groups and minority advocates had pushed for the legislation, propelled by complaints about stop and frisk and the surveillance of Muslims.

Supporters say the new laws, coupled with the judge's ruling, will end practices they see as unfair, will mold a more trusted, effective police force and can change how other departments use the policy.

"What happens in New York City has consequences for the nation," National Association for the Advancement of Colored People head Benjamin Jealous said, suggesting police elsewhere look to the NYPD as an example.

The debate on the bills veered into the personal and the historical, as lawmakers invoked the upcoming 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and discussed their constituents' and their experiences with bias. Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who's Hispanic and 8 1/2 months pregnant, reflected on her hopes for her unborn son.

"I look forward to giving birth to this young man because I know he's coming into a better New York City," she said.

Opponents said Thursday the measures would lower police morale but not crime, waste money and not solve a broader problem of a police force under pressure after shrinking by thousands of officers during the last decade.

"If you are so adamant and passionate about these issues, then find the courage to fix the budget long term and put more cops on the street," Councilman James Oddo said.

Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the smaller police force has nonetheless driven crime down without racially profiling. They say that between the council measures and the court ruling, a police force that has fought crime down to record lows will be tangled up in second-guessing and lawsuits.

"There is a reason major law enforcement organizations are all against this legislation," Kelly said in a statement. "It will have an adverse impact not only on our police officers but more importantly on the people and the neighborhoods they serve, particularly in minority communities."

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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