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NYC City Council Unveils Legislative Plans To Redefine Public Safety And Strengthen Police Accountability

Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash

The NYC City Council recently announced it will introduce a legislative package of 11 bills and one resolution aimed at reforming the New York City Police Department, that will be considered at a series of hearings in February.   

This package is in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order in June directing New York City to adopt a policing reform plan by April 1. The Council action comes despite months of delays from the de Blasio Administration to comply with the order. As the Council works to engage stakeholders and address the many issues raised by advocates and impacted communities, additional hearings and reform measures will be announced.   

“This legislative package will be just one of the steps the City Council is taking toward reforming policing,” said Speaker Corey Johnson. “It is critical that we redefine public safety and reduce the NYPD’s footprint. From mandating that the Council confirm incoming police commissioners to ensuring non-carceral interventions to community safety, this legislation will bring much-needed transparency and accountability to New Yorkers.”        

“Without transparency and accountability, we cannot rebuild trust between the police and the communities they serve,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams, Chair of the Committeeon Public Safety. “That’s why I’m sponsoring legislation to require the Council to hold confirmation hearings on the Police Commissioner and approve their appointment. The Council already uses its powers of advice and consent with some of the most powerful positions in the City. It’s time the Police Commissioner gets that same level of scrutiny. Encounters between drivers and the police are too often motivated by bias and end in tragedy. We need more transparency around traffic so we better understand who is being targeted for traffic enforcement. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Council and those who have been fighting for justice for years to finally bring real change to policing in New York City.”    

The initial proposals, most of which were to be introduced at the Feb. 11 Stated meeting, would reduce the NYPD’s footprint in the City and improve police discipline and increase accountability. Hearings began on February 8th.    

  • Reforming police discipline and increasing accountability/Remove the Police Commissioner’s final disciplinary authority

Sponsored by Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Council Member Stephen Levin. This bill would call on the State to enact legislation that would remove the New York City Police Commissioner’s exclusive authority over police discipline, allowing the CCRB to impose discipline in cases involving use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language. This resolution will be heard in the Committee on Public Safety on February 16 at 10:00am.   

“In order to take a truly reformative approach to public safety in New York City, we must take aggressive steps to ensure that New Yorkers have confidence in our ability to provide real accountability within the Police Department,” said Cumbo. “And I believe this can only happen if an independent entity—CCRB—is allowed to impose discipline. I am proud to lead the charge on just one of many necessary reforms. Thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Adrienne Adams for supporting our continued efforts to ensure a more equitable New York City. Together, we will meet the moment.”   

  • Ending qualified immunity for police officers

Sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin, this bill would end qualified immunity for police officers in New York City. The bill would create a new local civil right protecting New Yorkers against unreasonable searches and seizures, including the use of excessive force. The private right of action associated with that right would prohibit qualified immunity as a defense. This bill will be heard in the Committee on Public Safety on February 16 at 10:00am.   

“There has been broad consensus in recent years across the ideological spectrum that the judicial doctrine of qualified immunity is a serious impediment to accountability in law enforcement,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “It means that a police officer can violate a person’s civil rights as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and be immune to almost any kind of lawsuit possible. This proposed legislation is simple—it creates a set of civil rights here in New York City, mirroring those conferred by the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, so that people in New York City can hold officers accountable if those officers violate their civil rights. The legislation is not intended to be vindictive—the personal liability is limited—but it seeks to ensure greater accountability, which is essential to fostering greater trust between communities and police.”    

  • Requiring confirmation of the Police Commissioner

Sponsored by Council Members Adrienne Adams, Ben Kallos, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, and Speaker Corey Johnson, this bill would subject the Police Commissioner to the advice and consent of the Council. This introduction will be heard in the Committee on Public Safety on February 16 at 10:00am.   

  • Investigating police officers with a history of bias

Sponsored by Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson, this bill would allow a greater level of scrutiny of past activity by NYPD employees found to have exhibited bias, prejudice, intolerance, or bigotry. The bill would require the City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) to investigate that employee’s work history to determine if it was influenced by bias or prejudice. The CCHR would then turn over its findings and recommendations to the NYPD for potential further action, including any discipline, as well as to District Attorneys. Also, in light of the recent findings by the Council’s Oversight and Investigations Division regarding the conduct of the now former commanding officer of the NYPD Equal Employment Opportunity Division, James Kobel, the bill would require the CCHR to review the cases handled by the NYPD’s EEO Division during his tenure. The bill will be heard in the Committee on Civil and Human Rights on February 8 at 1:00pm.    

“A review of NYPD employees’ work history, including but not limited to any arrests and investigations they conducted, would impose greater accountability on those employees who have a track record of bias and prejudice,” said Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson. “A person’s personal beliefs cannot and should not impact how they perform their job, especially when they have a duty to serve and protect all New Yorkers. This bill would create a mechanism to ensure that NYPD employees are fulfilling their duties without bias or prejudice.”   

  • Preserving freedom of the press Int. 2118.

Sponsored by Council Member Keith Powers, it would give the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) sole authority to issue, suspend and revoke press credentials. DCAS would be required to establish rules setting forth the procedures and criteria for applications for press credential and suspension and revocation of press credentials, including procedures for appealing a suspension, revocation or denial of application. This bill was heard in the Committee on Governmental Operations on February 9.   

“Freedom of the press is one of our country’s greatest protections. But here in New York City, we need to make sure that this protection is guaranteed. My legislation ensures that we have a system for distributing press credentials that is fair, equitable, and accessible,” said Council MemberKeithPowers.   

  • Reforming mental health emergency responses/Creating a non-police emergency response for mental health emergencies

Sponsored by Council Members Diana Ayala, Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Robert Cornegy, Helen Rosenthal, Adrienne Adams, Farah Louis, and Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, this bill would create an Office of Community Mental Health within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to develop a Citywide Mental Health Emergency Response Protocol, wherein mental health emergencies are responded to by a Mental Health Emergency Response Unit, rather than the police.

The Office would train relevant City employees regarding the protocol, including the NYPD officers, 911 call operators, and new academy recruits.

This bill will be heard in the Committee on Mental Health on February 22 at 10:00am.   

“For decades, and during this past year in particular, New Yorkers have been devastated by the number of police killings of individuals with mental illness, and by the over-involvement of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system,” said Council Member Diana Ayala.“Mental health advocates, providers, and New Yorkers that have been touched by mental illness have long called for shifting the responsibility for responding to mental health crises from the police to mental health professionals.”   

  • Creating safe, welcoming schools/Reforming the role of school safety agents

Sponsored by Council Members Costa Constantinides, Helen Rosenthal, Mark Treyger, Adrienne Adams, and Speaker Corey Johnson, this bill will ensure that NYPD will be fully removed from school safety after June 2022. The bill will require significant reforms to the program and the role of school safety agents by August 2021, so that agents no longer make arrests, carry weapons or mechanical restraints, or wear law enforcement uniforms. School safety personnel would also be retrained, with a focus on areas such as restorative justice, child and youth development, and de-escalation. This bill will be heard in the Committee on Education on February 18 at 10:00am.   

“I am proud to be the lead sponsor of this bill,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides. “A school environment should be welcoming and provide a safe space that is conducive to student learning. It is time to make that a reality and refocus our attention on giving our students the best education possible.”   

  • Protecting students in emotional crisis, Int. 2188

Sponsored by Council Member Diana Ayala, would regulate the NYPD’s response to children in emotional crisis within public schools. The bill establishes procedures responding to children in emotional crisis and limits the use of mechanical restraints on children in emotional crisis

Additionally, school safety personnel would be required to receive training on identifying and responding to children in emotional crisis. This bill will be heard in the Committee on Education on February 18 at 10:00 am.   

“When a student is experiencing an emotional crisis, we must meet them with care and compassion,” said Council Member Diana Ayala. “Law enforcement should not be the first to respond—instead, we should follow the lead of our guidance counselors, social workers and other social emotional support staff. This legislation would move our city forward by protecting our students from the trauma and long-term harms associated with police interactions.”   

  • Increasing transparency on school safety agent turnovers

Sponsored by Council Member Mark Treyger, this bill would require reporting on the employment turnover of school safety agents, including information on transfers, terminations, and resignations. This bill will be heard in the Committee on Education on February 18 at 10:00am.   

“We need a cohesive, coherent, and collaborative approach to school climate that is rooted in both equity and safety for students and all school stakeholders. Currently, that is not the case. I stand by my call with previous Public Safety Chair Donovan Richards to undo the Rudy Giuliani policing in schools policy and shift the school safety division from NYPD to DOE under a framework shaped and advanced by school stakeholders. I thank Speaker Johnson for his support of this effort and continued commitment to see this through,” said Council Member Mark Treyger.

About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.