Bills also ban officers from covering their badge number from the public; reaffirm the right to record police activity in public places; create tool to identify problematic officers
New York, NY – City Council’s Public Safety Committee today is holding a hearing on four bills addressing police misconduct and inappropriate behavior. One bill criminalizes an officer’s use of a chokehold; another one bans officers from covering their badge numbers from the public; a third bill reaffirms the people’s right to record police activity in public places; and lastly, another bill requires the NYPD to create a tool, known as an Early Intervention System (EIS), to identify problematic officers and bad policing patterns.
Additionally, the hearing also discussed two resolutions on police misconduct. One, by Council Member Carlina Rivera, calls on Congress to pass legislation by US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries making the use of a chokehold by a police officer unlawful under the federal law. The second one, introduced by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, calls on the State to ban chokeholds and establish the crime of strangulation in the first degree.
The Public Safety Committee hearing, chaired by Council Member Donovan Richards, comes a day after the state Legislature approved legislation banning the use of chokeholds statewide. The state bill would make it a felony to use a chokehold when causing serious injury or death. The Council bill, Intro. 563 and sponsored by Council Member Rory Lancman, is different from the State’s since it makes the use of a chokehold and other deadly techniques restraining breathing a misdemeanor. No injury is necessary.
During his opening remarks at the hearing, Speaker Corey Johnson said that in addition to legislation we must also deliver budget justice by making meaningful cuts to the New York Police Department’s budget. Those funds should be reinvested in communities of color across the city. He also called for transformational change to the NYPD. His prepared remarks can be read in full at this link.
The need for these police misconduct bills is all too apparent. During the recent city-wide protests, New Yorkers saw numerous videos in which many police officers covered their badge numbers, preventing individuals from being able to identify them in a complaint or lawsuit. The Council’s legislation, sponsored by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, establishes a private right of action if an officer refuses to make the badge visible upon request. Although the NYPD patrol guide requires this practice, there is no specific law mandating it.
We also saw New Yorkers getting detained or arrested while exercising their constitutional right to film police activity in public in a safe manner. Intro 721-A, sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, reaffirms the right to record police activity in public, and creates a private right of action for individuals who were prevented from filming. The legislation enforces New Yorkers’ right to film, guaranteed by the First Amendment.
And Intro 760-A, sponsored by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, requires that the NYPD have a robust Early Intervention System (EIS) to identify inappropriate behavior by police officers and problematic patterns in policing. Although the NYPD already has an EIS in place, there is no public insight into how the system works. Under this proposal, the EIS would include over a dozen data points that are critical in reforming internal policies and identifying problematic officers.
On June 18th, the Council is expected to vote on these four bills, in addition to Intro 1309, sponsored by Council Member Donovan Richards, calling for the NYPD to create clear guidelines for police discipline, known as a disciplinary matrix.
The Council will also vote on three resolutions. In addition to Council Members Rivera and Cabrera’s resolutions, the Council will vote on another that supports state legislation to repeal the law that currently shields police officers’ disciplinary records form being public (Public Advocate Jumaane Williams).
“Sadly, we’ve seen evidence of police officers violating constitutional rights and their own patrol guide, including hiding their badge numbers to make it difficult to report a complaint and blocking people from filming in public, which is legal. These bills address that bad behavior and call for more accountability for police misconduct. We need real transparency in the NYPD. The City Council will not sit back and watch this behavior continue without taking action,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“From George Floyd, to Ahmaud Arbery, to Eric Garner, we have seen a near constant stream of video of police misconduct for several years. While these videos are often painful, they are also crucial. Again and again, we see that video evidence is one of the only ways to have a chance at accountability for officer misconduct. But again and again, we also see officers attempting to infringe on the right to record, and the transparency that comes with it, blocking attempts penalizing people who exercise this right. By codifying this right in city law, we further protect the ability for the public to provide transparency and demand accountability, and I thank the Speaker for recognizing the need to pass this bill now,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“In order to move forward, we must create a system of accountability within our police departments. This week, we have seen many NYPD officers covering their badges when policing protests. A badge number makes filing a complaint, and therefore holding an officer accountable, much easier. Additionally, the right to record a police officer’s activity is not only vital to accountability but guaranteed under the Constitution. We need to be able to accurately document our interactions with officers. When officers display a pattern of violent behavior that threatens the safety of our community, they no longer belong on the streets with a weapon and the authority of the law. An early intervention system will allow us to weed out officers who do not follow the rules of conduct before they are able to victimize our neighbors. As always, I am proud to serve with Speaker Johnson who is unwavering in his commitment to providing New Yorkers with a better quality of life,” said Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo.
“Today, we are sending a clear message that courtesy, professionalism and respect should not just be a slogan,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, Chair of City Council Committee on Public Safety. “During a time when we are rightfully outraged about the wrongful deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans, we need to ensure that the police officers charged to protect us aren’t encroaching on our civil liberties to protest that. We also need to ensure that officers aren’t violating their own directives to preserve peace, protect the people, and reduce fear. This isn’t a moment. It’s a movement and we cannot lose sight of that. I commend Speaker Johnson and my colleagues for enacting tangible pieces of legislation that protect Black lives,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety.
“This legislation represents a crucial step towards greater police accountability and transparency. Through banning chokeholds, publicly linking discipline to misconduct, and upholding the rights of New Yorkers, we bolster public trust in policing and prevent the horrific abuses that we have all witnessed on video. As we remember the deaths, bereaved, and anguish that bring us to this moment, let us also uplift and honor the loved ones, advocates, and peaceful protest that make the significant reforms we undertake possible,” said Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., Chair of the Democratic Conference.
“I am proud to sponsor Intro. 760 that will track, review, and evaluate police officers that are in need of enhanced training to perform their job. Given the current climate, it is evident that there is a need for accountability and I believe this bill is a step in the right direction during a time in which New Yorkers are asking for reforms to the current system. I commend Speaker Johnson for taking action and I look forward to our continued work on this legislation,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson.
“The NYPD has demonstrated a pattern of skirting around rules that are in place to protect citizens. Covering badge number and rank is a common tactic used to suppress complaints and further allow officers to act with impunity. It’s a direct violation of police officer’s patrol guide and the rights of New Yorkers. This bill will redress the rights of New Yorkers to identify any police officer they interact with,” said Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel.
“I’m proud to join my fellow Council Members in supporting this legislation and taking concrete steps towards much-needed reform of our police force, particularly surrounding transparency. As we’ve seen throughout these protests for needed change, police officers have at numerous times withheld identifying information and denied journalists, legal observers, and others the right to safely record police actions. This cannot be allowed to continue, and we must take further steps here and beyond to address excessive use of force and other issues in policing,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera.
“Our collective action this week seeks to align public policy with the discourse we have been having in communities of color, a discussion that is now taking place broadly across our city and country. I applaud my fellow Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus colleagues for their thoughtful legislation, as well as Speaker Johnson for his commitment to working with the BLAC to address these critical issues. Over the past six years we’ve sought to end unjust practices in law enforcement that disproportionately impact communities of color, but there is still much more work to be done. It’s up to us in this moment to bring about lasting, fundamental change to how law enforcement operates,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Co-Chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus.
“Law enforcement officers are public servants who are accountable to the people of New York City,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams, Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. “The bills before the New York City Council will be a monumental change for all residents of our city and a significant step toward accountability. We cannot continue to operate with a high level of ambiguity and unacceptable behavior during police encounters. Discipline must be imposed on bad actors. Police misconduct is contrary to the very mission of the NYPD and should be addressed with swift and consistent discipline. We can only move forward as a city with trust in law enforcement and that starts with accountability.”
“Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have taken to the streets to protest racist law enforcement and police brutality, and to demand action from their government — action that we are finally taking to criminalize police officer chokeholds, in the memory of Eric Garner, George Floyd, and every victim of police violence,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, Chair of the Council Committee on the Justice System.
“Our city and nation have had too many regrettable incidents between civilians and police officers that have left people’s hearts in pain, fear, and with festering anger. The tragic, violent and unnecessary death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last week is one more wound that the collective soul of humanity must bear. We must stop the pain. We must take decisive action that demonstrates our commitment to change, and our recognition that these acts are inhumane. We are better than this. My Resolution 0027-2019 calls on the New York State legislature to pass and Governor Cuomo to sign A.1699 and S.4915 which would establish the crime of strangulation in the first degree. Our current laws don’t go far enough. Current State law designates applying pressure on the throat or neck with intent to impede normal breathing or blood circulation, as a misdemeanor, rising to a Class C violent felony if it results in serious physical injury. Clearly this is insufficient. I commend Speaker Corey Johnson for his leadership in moving this legislation forward,” said Council Member Fernando Cabrera.
“The passage of this legislation is very personal for me, as I hear the echoes of Eric Garner’s voice, 11 times saying ‘I can’t breathe’ as Officer Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death, a blatant violation of NYPD’s officers’ Patrol Guide. Eric Garner’s death proved that it is not enough that the NYPD prohibits deadly chokeholds. History has shown us that violations of NYPD rules result in little or no discipline for officers. Five years ago I co-sponsored legislation that demanded real accountability and consequences defined by law. The codification of this rule is long overdue. This month, as we memorialize George Floyd’s death, we move forward with a vote on a bill to make chokeholds illegal, as well as a package of bills to strengthen police accountability and public safety,” said Council Member Debi Rose.
“This legislation should serve as a reminder that no one is above the law, including those charged with enforcing it. We must hold men and women with power and authority to a higher standard and if they abuse those privileges, we must also hold them accountable. This is what accountability looks like. I applaud Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Pubic Advocate Jumaane Williams, my colleagues in the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and Speaker Corey Johnson for fighting to bring about an end to police brutality,” said Council Member Francisco Moya, Vice Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
“The events of the past two weeks show that we cannot waste anymore time in enacting substantive legislation that will reform the NYPD and police practices. These bills are a first step in answering the demands of the public and tackling police reform head on,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.
“Over the past several days in New York City, we have seen demonstrations and heard a collective call for justice. It is our duty to take action. Transparency, accountability, and use of force must be reformed across the NYPD. Ultimately, these reforms will strengthen our institutions and build trust in communities,” said Council Member Keith Powers, Chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice.
“We have witnessed the abuse Black Americans and people of color continue to go through at the direct hands of those that have sworn to serve and protect them. We have also seen people of all ages and backgrounds take to the streets and demonstrate their disgust and anger for a system that blatantly disregards the lives and livelihoods of Black Americans,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “I will be advocating alongside my colleagues at the Council for the passage of these bills which will bring much needed accountability to New York City’s Police Department. I ask my colleagues that do not represent underserved communities to join us in this fight for Justice and an end to racial inequalities.”
“We are currently at the brink of a watershed moment that will decide the future of policing in our city, and that’s all thanks to the courageous New Yorkers who have taken to the streets to end the cycle of over-policing and excessive force that have harmed communities for generations, especially Black and brown New Yorkers. Here in New York City Council, the BLAC is making sure the demands that New Yorkers are making are finally enacted and codified. I am proud to support this package, and recognize that this is only the first step to larger reform and accountability within the NYPD. I am excited to work with my colleagues to keep this momentum going,” said Council Member Margaret Chin.
“Around a year ago, the BLAC stood at One Police Plaza and demanded the NYPD fire the officer responsible for Eric Garner’s death. The last several days have proven that the NYPD has taken no actionable steps to increase accountability or reform practices. It is unacceptable to meet nonviolent protests against police brutality with more police brutality. I support this package of legislation and am committed to working with my colleagues in the BLAC to see these bills passed, but more importantly, enacted and implemented. Black and brown communities in New York City have had enough. As their representatives, we say: no more,” said Council Member Farah N. Louis, Vice Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
“I want to commend Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Council Members Donovan Richards, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, and Vanessa Gibson for their advocacy on behalf of the safety and security of all New Yorkers. In recent days, we have seen unnecessary acts of violence between protestors and law enforcement, and it is critical that we do more to prevent future disruptive behavior. The expression of free speech in the form of a peaceful protest is a human right protected under the Constitution, and it is important that the necessary measures are taken to uphold this principle. To do otherwise, would be unjust and a violation of the values that we work steadfastly to uphold as a city and as a nation. We are tasked with improving the ways in which we can ensure public safety, and I believe that these pieces of legislation are a vital part of that process,” said Council Member Mathieu Eugene.