After City Councilman Jumaane Williams released a statement saying that it would be “irresponsible” for the City Council to not pass the proposed Community Safety Act, a package of bills aimed at reforming the NYPD, Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. reiterated his opinion that the legislation would hurt the city’s fiscal health.
Williams, a prime sponsor of the four bills, had told City & State that an amendment was submitted to Bill No. 800 of the Community Safety Act that would remove the language allowing individuals who were stopped and frisked based on biased profiling to sue for compensatory damages, and that they would now only be able to sue for injunctive and declaratory relief. Council sources also claim that Vallone knew that the amendment was being submitted before he was interviewed by the New York Post last week, when he claimed the bill would “bankrupt the city”.
Vallone said that he “can’t say for sure” that he had no prior knowledge of the amendment before speaking with the Post, but that with or without the amendment, the bill would still be harmful to the city and most of all the NYPD because it would force them to second guess how they fight crime–most notably in the NYPD gang units.
“What this bill would do, is it would say that race could not be used to any degree, which really shows a complete naivete to police work,” Vallone said. “You might as well tell the NYPD gang unit to turn in their badges and go home if they couldn’t use race as a factor as they combat the ethnic gangs in New York City.”
“The only diverse gang in New York City history was ‘The Warriors,’ and they were make-believe,” Vallone added, referring to the cult film classic about a dystopian turf gang war.
Vallone pointed out that he had previously helped write the city’s profiling bill–which bans race, among other identifiers such as religion, from being the predominant factor in any police stop–with help from the NYPD and civil rights groups, and that he did not want to be portrayed as an opponent of New Yorkers’ civil rights.
But even if the proposed amendment were to be added to the bill during the hearing process, Vallone said it would still be onerous for the city and NYPD because the flurry of lawsuits would require public defenders and the recurring presence of police officers in court to explain each stop.
“The fact that we may amend it down the road doesn’t change anything that I said,” maintained Vallone. “I don’t know what the amendment means. Maybe the amendment is still gonna allow attorney fees. Even if you don’t pay out on every case, just defending these suits alone would shut down the police department and cost the city tons of money.”
Vallone believes that the “discredited legal theory” of disparate impact is the driving force behind the bill. The doctrine, which insists that government practices do not have the effect of discrimination, has been used in cases such as Judge Nicholas Garaufis’ battle with the Fire Department over hiring minorities. Vallone said that disparate impact can be used against anybody on the grounds of discrimination, without actually having to prove that there was a racial motive. However, according to legal experts familiar with the proposed legislation, disparate impact allows individuals who were stopped and frisked a foot in the door of a courtroom to argue that they were unfairly discriminated against, shifting the burden on the NYPD to prove that police officers acted in a non-discriminatory way.
“What [the bill] does is it signals that the city and the NYPD should be very careful when it implements practices that disproportionately impact certain communities,” said Udi Ofer, the advocacy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It brings New York City in line with 21st century civil rights law.”