In a move to distance itself from the Mayor Michael Bloomberg on stop-and-frisk and policing issues, the New York City Council overrode two mayoral vetoes on police oversight.
The bills, which had been vetoed by the mayor a month ago, greatly heighten the level of oversight over the police department and provide a path for citizens to sue over police profiling. They are a direct result of growing public irritation with the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program.
One bill creates an independent inspector general for the police, something that has been vehemently opposed by the mayor and the city’s police commissioner, Raymond Kelly. The other bill vastly expands the ability of New Yorkers to sue the police in state courts for claims of racial profiling.
Critics have charged that the practice of stop-and-frisk amounts to little more than state-sanctioned racial profiling by the New York Police Department, pointing out that the overwhelming number of those stopped are found to be innocent of any wrongdoing.
The override vote comes just weeks after a New York federal judge ruled that the police department's stop-and-frisk practices violated constitutional protections.
Bloomberg was highly critical of the decision of the 51-member City Council to override his vetoes, calling the action an effort to “outsource management of the NYPD to unaccountable officials.” He also said he would take the matter to court to prevent enacting the law that would expand the ability of people to sue the city for racial profiling claims.
“It’s a dangerous piece of legislation,” the mayor said. “We will ask the courts to step in before innocent people are harmed.”
Nonetheless, the Council’s override was hailed by a number of elected officials and by leaders of various civil rights organizations.
“We're thrilled that the City Council has recognized that the NYPD's long history of racial profiling demands independent oversight," said Christina Swarns, director of the criminal justice practice at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "This is yet another victory for those seeking to create a safer community for all New Yorkers."
Joo-Hyun Kang, a spokesman for the grass-roots group, Communities United for Police Reform, called the council’s override a “victory for civil rights, safety and the people of our great city, whose voices have been heard. New Yorkers want to live in a city where equality and justice matter and today’s vote confirms those are the foundation of our city's values.”
The Council voted in large numbers to create an independent inspector general for the city’s police department, with 39 in favor and 10 opposed. The second bill, on expanding residents’ ability to sue the police over bias-based profiling, passed with 34 votes, precisely the number needed for an override.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is running for mayor, voted against the override.
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(Photo: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)