New York City

One step forward, two steps back: Getting police reform right

This Tuesday, New York City Council members will vote on the two-headed package of bills known as the Right To Know Act. The original two pieces of legislation, that are now versions, Intro 541-C and Intro 182-D, were drafted in an effort to improve police accountability, communication and transparency during police encounters.

Intro 541-C creates a path to meaningful reform in the New York City Police Department by requiring its officers to obtain informed, voluntary consent, before a search that has no legal basis other than a person’s consent. In an effort to protect people’s rights, this reform will require police officers to inform people of their constitutional right to refuse to such a search. If consent is given, the officer would be required to obtain objective proof of consent and the NYPD would be required to report to the council on the frequency of consensual searches.

This is the type of reform that can truly change the culture of policing, while promoting a high level of accountability, transparency and trust that New Yorkers have been waiting to see and feel for decades. This game-changing piece of legislation has garnered support from a vast coalition of 200 New York-based and national groups and organizations, including Communities United for Police Reform, Color of Change, Make the Road NY, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the NYCLU, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the New York Legal Aid Society and Bronx Defenders, to name a few. With tremendous support and common-sense reform we can all get behind, one would assume that we were heading in the right direction. That’s only partly true. The second bill, a revised version of the original Intro 182 of the Right to Know Act, which would have required officers to identify themselves and give civilians the reason for engaging them in non-emergency policing interactions, now actually works to undermine police accountability.

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Intro 182-D has enough loopholes in it to render the paper it’s written on more valuable than the bill itself. Unfortunately, after working with impacted communities for months, the rewrite leaves out the vast majority of the policy changes requested by community groups whose members experience abusive policing encounters the most. As a result, 182-D removes the bill’s protections in the majority of policing encounters and adds loopholes that negate the bill’s original requirement for officers to explain the reasons for engaging in a non-emergency encounter.

Traffic stops and all low-level investigatory encounters, which make up the majority of historically abusive police encounters, have been entirely removed from the bill. Women are particularly impacted by this legislation, as they are more likely to experience sexual harassment and other forms of harassment during low-level encounters with police.

As a result of these changes to this bill, police officers will still be able approach and question individuals without the communication needed in order to build trusting police-community relationships. The reality is that countless New Yorkers have been harassed by police in their lifetime, even when there was no suspicion of criminal activity, and this bill fails to address that, while giving the false appearance of progress.

As an elected official, protecting the people I represent is of the highest priority. Therefore, I urge my colleagues in the City Council to take a stand for the countless New Yorkers who have been threatened by police abuses and harassment, and who deserve accountability, transparency, and to have their rights respected in the most common policing encounters. In an effort to achieve meaningful reform in police accountability, we must take one step forward by voting "yes" on Intro 541-C, and avoid taking any steps backwards by voting "no" on Intro 182-D. 

Assemblyman Walter Mosley represents the 57th Assembly District, including the communities of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and parts of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.