City Hall, NY – Today, Speaker Adrienne Adams delivered opening remarks at the Council’s Committee on Public Safety hearing regarding several pieces of legislation that would increase transparency and reporting on the New York Police Department (NYPD)’s civilian encounters, body-worn camera footage, and policing practices and procedures. In her remarks, the Speaker discussed her bill to provide the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) with direct access to all body-worn camera footage for impartial investigations of civilian complaints. She also spoke about proposed legislation to expand the NYPD’s reporting on vehicle stops, and the importance of advancing NYPD transparency and accountability to improve public trust and increase safety for all New Yorkers.
Below are the Speaker’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:
Good afternoon. I’m New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. Thank you all for joining us today and thank you to Chair of the Public Safety Committee, Kamillah Hanks, for chairing this important hearing.
Police transparency and accountability are critical to address the racially disparate impacts of policing on Black communities and other communities. Nationally and here in New York City, we know that there is far more work to be done to ensure more effective and just policing that keeps everyone safe. Continued police abuses and killings are occurring throughout the country, and New York is certainly not immune.
Over the years, the Council has enacted legislation to increase NYPD transparency and improve policies that ensure the department is accountable to the public. Transparency and accountability are essential to improving public trust and public safety. When there is greater trust between New Yorkers and their government, our city is safer.
The legislation we are hearing today is aimed at furthering the goal of transparency. Whether through better public access to data or body-worn camera footage, the positive impact of increasing transparency on public safety should not be downplayed or caricatured.
Police transparency and accountability are consistent with public safety, and it is misguided and shortsighted to portray them as in conflict. The increased safety achieved by advancements in police transparency and accountability benefits communities and officers alike. For too long, our conversations on these issues have been stuck in an overly simplistic and counterproductive binary that is simply not accurate. Our public policy dialogue on policing must reflect how accountability and transparency generates a trust that facilitates an easier job for officers and safer communities for all New Yorkers.
In 2013, a federal court found that the NYPD had engaged in an unconstitutional use of stop-and-frisk that disproportionately targeted the City’s Black and Latino residents. Part of the court’s remedy was to establish a federal monitor of the City’s stop (question) and frisk practices.
The federal monitor’s numerous reports to the Court have consistently identified the NYPD’s under reporting of stops as a continuing issue. One of the reasons for this are the obscure legal distinctions that allow officers to question New Yorkers based on a lower legal threshold than the reasonable suspicion required of what is defined as a stop-and-frisk. While civilians formally have the legal right to walk away from these lower-level stops, the practical ability to exercise this right is often absent. When someone is stopped by an officer, they don’t feel they can walk away from the encounter and often, it’s not permitted. After all, there is a power difference for an unarmed civilian interacting with an armed officer. Intros 586 and 538, heard today, are aimed at addressing this transparency gap.
Another remedy of the federal court was the introduction of body-worn cameras, which began to be rolled out in 2017. Two years later, all patrol officers were equipped with body-worn cameras and NYPD guidelines instructed officers how to use them. Body-worn cameras can increase transparency, but only if the policies that govern their use and access to their footage prioritize transparency.
New York City’s current policies on access to body-worn camera footage have unfortunately fallen short of prioritizing public transparency. Governments in numerous states and cities across the country use body-worn cameras for police officers, while maintaining footage access policies that are significantly better than New York City’s. Not only has the public in our city lacked adequate access to footage, but the entities responsible for oversight of the NYPD have also faced obstacles to accessing it, undermining their ability to fulfill statutory oversight duties. For example, the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s investigations into police misconduct from the 2020 George Floyd protests were reported to be hampered by the police department not turning over body-worn camera footage in a timely fashion. The Office of the NYPD Inspector General and New Yorkers, including the media, have also faced challenges accessing footage in a reasonably streamlined way. There is clearly a transparency gap regarding body-worn camera footage that requires examination and solutions. A few of the bills we will hear today seek to address these gaps. I have sponsored Introduction 938, which requires the NYPD to provide the CCRB with direct access to all body-worn camera footage. As the City’s civilian oversight body of the NYPD, timely and unedited access to body-worn camera recordings is vital to achieving its mission of thoroughly and impartially investigating civilian complaints.
The Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD in the Department of Investigation (OIG-NYPD) issued a report examining how body-worn camera footage is used by City agencies tasked with ensuring police oversight and investigating allegations of misconduct. It found that the lengthy processes involved, including waiting on NYPD staff to conduct searches of the recordings and approve requests, severely hampered the CCRB’s ability to investigate complaints in a timely manner. My bill addresses these hindrances by providing the CCRB with direct access comparable to the NYPD’s internal affairs bureau, while another bill addresses other access issues.
Additionally, various State laws prohibit the CCRB from viewing sealed records. CCRB investigations are often significantly delayed because of the process to unseal records, an issue that has arisen in the administrative prosecution of NYPD Officer Wayne Isaacs for the killing of Delrawn Small. At times, this impediment means that CCRB investigations can quickly approach their 18-month statute of limitation without the records needed to move a case forward. To address this, my preconsidered resolution calls on the State Legislature to pass legislation that would provide the CCRB with access to sealed records so that it can complete its duties and functions in a timely manner.
The last bill I will mention is Introduction 781-A, which pertains to reporting on vehicle stops. Last session as Public Safety Committee Chair, I sponsored the bill that became Local Law 45, requiring the NYPD to provide quarterly reports on traffic stops and the demographic data related to them. The data on police vehicle stops released thus far shows that Black and Latino drivers are disproportionately the target of them, as well as their resulting arrests, searches and uses of force. The sheer number of these stops in our city, reported for the first time as a result of my previous bill, is a cause for serious concern. There were over 670,000 such stops last year, a number that compares to the highest level of pedestrian stop (question) and-frisks during the Bloomberg administration. We know that police traffic stops nationally have been identified as disproportionately and unduly likely to escalate into dangerous and fatal encounters for drivers. Many police departments across the country have been overhauling their use of traffic stops, moving away from them because of the severe racial disparities and excessive risks of use-of-force. The deaths of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Daunte Wright in Minnesota, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Jordan Edwards in Texas, and many others occurred as a result of traffic stops. New York City should be a national leader, not lagging in forward thought and progress attempted by police departments across the country. I commend the Public Advocate for proposing this bill to further expand reporting on traffic stops.
Between these pieces of legislation, and the other bills we are hearing today, the Council hopes to further enhance transparency with the City’s police department, because it is critical to making our communities safer.
We look forward to hearing from the public, the NYPD, and advocates today about these bills and their ultimate goal of advancing transparency.
Before we begin, I would like to thank our diligent Committee staff for their work in organizing this hearing. I now hand it back over to Chair Hanks.