Adams’ vetoes set up council fights over public safety and solitary confinement bills

The City Council has vowed to override the vetoes of the How Many Stops Act and the solitary confinement ban.

Mayor Eric Adams said his veto was in pursuit of public safety.

Mayor Eric Adams said his veto was in pursuit of public safety. Screengrab, Office of New York City Mayor Eric Adams

Surrounded by a crowded room of law enforcement, business and neighborhood groups, Mayor Eric Adams on Friday vetoed police reporting legislation passed by the City Council late last year. Just a couple hours later, Adams announced another veto of a bill that would ban solitary confinement in city jails, setting up two override fights between the council and Adams administration.

The How Many Stops Act, sponsored and staunchly defended in the past few weeks by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, would require police officers to report on more low-level investigative encounters with civilians, providing information about the apparent race/ethnicity, gender and age of the civilian, the reason for the encounter, and the outcome. 

Adams – along with police officials, law enforcement unions and other allies represented on Friday – argued that these are cumbersome reporting requirements that will leave officers mired in paperwork, erode community trust and ultimately harm public safety. Williams and the bill’s backers in the City Council, including Speaker Adrienne Adams, maintain that the bill’s requirements will not be nearly as cumbersome as the administration has made them out to be.

The City Council has already vowed to override the mayor’s veto of the legislation, which passed with a veto-proof majority of 35 in favor and nine against last month. “At a time when one out of every four stops made by the mayor’s new police unit has been found to be unconstitutional, and civilian complaints are at their highest level in more than a decade, the mayor is choosing to fight to conceal information from the public,” Speaker Adams and Council Member Yusef Salaam – who was just named the new chair of the public safety committee – said in a joint statement on Friday. “Rather than focusing on governing our city, the mayor and his administration have sought to mislead and incite fear through a propaganda campaign, wasting government resources and creating division. These actions only raise questions about why this administration fears sharing data with New Yorkers about the use of their tax dollars.”

Williams has been particularly fierce in his criticism of the mayor over his comments about the bill, accusing Mayor Adams of “following in the footsteps” of former mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. “With this veto, the mayor is threatening New Yorkers’ safety to advance his own ideological and personal political agenda. Either he is vetoing the bill without reading it, or he has been deliberately deceiving people to scare New Yorkers and justify his dangerous choice. I’m angered by his selfishness,” Williams said in a statement on Friday. 

Adams’ show of force in opposition to the bill on Friday was returned with a flurry of condemnations of his veto from progressive lawmakers and organizations that advocate for police reform. 

The mayor’s press conference on Friday focused entirely on the police reporting bill. Adams didn’t bring up the solitary confinement bill that the City Council also passed late last year. A couple hours later, however, the mayor’s press office sent out a release announcing the veto of that legislation as well. “Under our administration, the city’s jails are getting safer – but this bill would have taken us in the wrong direction,” Adams said in a statement. “Vetoing this bill will keep those in our custody and our correction officers safer.”

Adams maintains that solitary confinement is not currently in use in city jails, and has tried to distinguish between solitary confinement and “punitive segregation,” which is in use as punishment for violent offenses, placing detainees in restrictive housing units and locked in cells for most of the day. Supporters of the ban, and the city’s Board of Correction, use the two terms interchangeably.

The mayor pointed to a recent statement by the federal monitor overseeing city jails that the legislation is “well-intentioned,” but that provisions of it, as currently drafted, “could inadvertently undermine the overall goals of protecting individuals from harm, promoting sound correctional practice and improving safety for those in custody and jail staff.”

The legislation banning solitary confinement in city jails, which was an early point of contention between the mayor and Speaker Adams at the outset of their respective terms, passed with a veto proof majority of 39 in favor and seven against last month. 

The City Council has also vowed to override the mayor’s veto of the solitary confinement ban. “Solitary confinement, by any name, has been proven to cause physical, psychological, and emotional harm, and its use has contributed to continued violence and deaths on Rikers Island,” Speaker Adams said in a joint statement with Council Member Sandy Nurse, who now chairs the Committee on Criminal Justice. “The Council stands by its passage of this legislation and will take the steps to enact this law over the mayor’s veto to address the catastrophic conditions that are taking the lives of people in our city's custody. We urge the mayor’s administration to begin addressing the Council as a co-equal branch of government by coming to legislative negotiations with the competence and good faith that has too often been lacking to best serve our city.”

This is the third and fourth time in his term that Mayor Adams has vetoed legislation passed by the City Council. In the most recent instance last year, the mayor vetoed legislation to expand eligibility for city rental vouchers. While the City Council promptly voted to override that veto, the Adams administration hasn’t been taking steps to fully implement the new laws. Earlier this month, Speaker Adams threatened legal action if the city’s Department of Social Services doesn’t start to implement the changes by Feb. 7.

Williams seemed to acknowledge the possibility that the administration could similarly handle the How Many Stops Act if the veto is overridden. “When the City Council overrides this veto, hopefully the administration will move forward to faithfully execute the legislation instead of sabotaging it and hurting public safety,” Williams said in his statement.

Williams also had fierce criticism for the mayor for his veto of the solitary confinement ban. “With this veto, the mayor has condemned New Yorkers to suffer in solitary confinement and isolation, and he did so after the cameras were turned off and backs were turned,” he said in a statement. “It’s cowardly, weak, shameful, and entirely expected from this version of this mayor.”