Criminal Justice

City Council overrides mayor’s vetoes on two law enforcement bills

Projecting a united front, the council defied a public relations campaign by the mayor to cast both bills as endangering public safety.

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams led the council’s efforts to overturn two additional vetoes by Mayor Eric Adams.

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams led the council’s efforts to overturn two additional vetoes by Mayor Eric Adams. John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

The New York City Council voted to override Mayor Eric Adams’ vetoes of two law enforcement bills on Tuesday, projecting a united front in the legislative body and defying a public relations campaign by the mayor to cast both bills as endangering public safety.

This marked the second and third times that the body, led by Speaker Adrienne Adams, has voted to override a veto by Mayor Adams. But more so than in the last override fight, over a package of bills expanding access to rental vouchers, both the mayor and council leaders have carried out an intense and public campaign against and in favor of the How Many Stops Act, respectively.

On the How Many Stops Act, which requires more police reporting on lower-level investigative encounters, the council voted by 42 votes in favor and nine against to override the mayor’s veto. On the bill limiting the use of solitary confinement in city jails as well as the use of emergency lock-ins, the council voted also by 42 in favor and nine against to override the veto. The nine Republican and conservative Democratic members of the council’s Common Sense Caucus made up the opposition in both votes.

Speaker Adams succeeded in not only maintaining the veto proof majorities that those bills passed with in December, but in growing them. Council Member Erik Bottcher, who previously voted against the How Many Stops Act last month, voted to override the mayor’s veto of it on Tuesday. Council Members Linda Lee, Francisco Moya and Mercedes Narcisse, who all abstained on that bill in December, all voted to override the veto on Tuesday as well. Several members who were absent during the initial votes in December, including James Gennaro, Darlene Mealy and Sandra Ung, all voted to override both vetoes.

Council Member Kamillah Hanks, who previously chaired the public safety committee, voted in favor of the How Many Stops Act in December and affirmed her support by voting to override the mayor’s veto on Tuesday. But she acknowledged that she has concerns about the inclusion of the lower “level one” investigative encounters in the bill, and urged the council to stay engaged as the law is implemented to evaluate its success. 

“As government, we have a responsibility to do right by New Yorkers who have been persistently harmed and failed by these unjust policies,” Speaker Adams said in a statement following the overrides. “We are proud to override the Mayor's vetoes and hold our government accountable for delivering transparency and true safety to all New Yorkers.”

In his own statement, Mayor Adams doubled down on his opposition to the bills. “These bills will make New Yorkers less safe on the streets, while police officers are forced to fill out additional paperwork rather than focus on helping New Yorkers and strengthening community bonds,” Adams said in the statement following the vote. “Additionally, it will make staff in our jails and those in our custody less safe by impairing our ability to hold those who commit violent acts accountable.”

The override vote, while successful for Speaker Adams, wasn’t without speed bumps. In an apparent attempt to delay the vote, Council Member Kalman Yeger, who opposed both bills, argued that the meetings scheduled on Tuesday violated the city charter because the agendas weren’t properly posted in advance. That effort failed. 

The mayor and his allies have argued that the How Many Stops Act will tie up officers in administrative work, keeping them from patrolling the streets. And while City Hall has been adamant that “solitary confinement” isn’t currently used in city jails, they’ve argued that the legislation will make jails less safe for detainees and correction officers – a position that was echoed by the federal monitor overseeing the jail system.

The lobbying campaign on the How Many Stops Act, which originally passed with a more narrow veto-proof majority in December of 35 votes in favor, has been particularly intense. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who sponsored the bill, and Speaker Adams have levied harsh criticisms at City Hall, accusing the mayor of running a misinformation campaign. Mayor Adams has suggested that the council doesn’t understand the bill that they passed, and the reporting requirements that it will add to lower-level police encounters. The disagreement over the legislation on both sides has at times turned to name-calling and petty power plays. “We have laid out this legislation as honestly as we can,” Speaker Adams said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of the override vote. 

As part of his effort to turn the tide against the How Many Stops Act, Mayor Adams invited council members to a ride-along with NYPD officers on Saturday night to observe the demands of their existing duties. With the exception of Council Member Bob Holden, the members who went on that ride-along all voted to override the mayor’s veto. 

Council Member Eric Dinowitz, who went on that ride-along, said that he initially had concerns about the bill adding to officers’ duties when he first heard about it, but said those concerns were eased after reading the patrol guide and speaking to officers. “Our job as council members is to provide oversight of all of our city agencies, and that includes the NYPD,” Dinowitz said when explaining his vote in favor of overriding the vetoes on Tuesday. “This bill does not significantly add to their administrative tasks.” Dinowitz said, however, that he did hear about other administrative work officers have to do that is duplicative, and suggested that the administration and council audit and streamline that work.

Overriding a mayoral veto is an institutional check on executive authority. But it’s not always a guarantee that a law will be implemented, at least not immediately. The city is not acting to fully implement laws the council passed last year – and overrode a mayoral veto on – that will expand access to CityFHEPS rental vouchers. The council has threatened to sue if steps to implement it are not taken by Feb. 7.

Despite not being able to sway council members to vote against overriding his vetoes, Mayor Adams expressed hope that the administration and City Council will be able to find compromise on the How Many Stops Act, and even amend the bill. 

In an energetic rally outside City Hall on Tuesday morning and in a press conference in the afternoon, Speaker Adams and Williams reaffirmed their commitment to standing by the part of the bill that the mayor strongly opposes – the inclusion of so-called “level one” encounters in the reporting requirements. 

“It’s probably the one-liner that I say the most,” Mayor Adams said, when asked if he would commit to ensuring that the NYPD implements the How Many Stops Act as written if a compromise can’t be found. “We’re going to follow the law.”

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Adams said she expected no less. “Once we override this veto today, I trust that the mayor will come back to the table and talk to us in truth in understanding what this bill really does,” Speaker Adams said. “We expect the department to comply with the law just like any citizen has to comply with the law.”

While the veto fight between Mayor Adams’ administration and the City Council at times devolved into political pettiness, council members speaking about both bills drew on personal experiences when explaining their votes for or against them on Tuesday. 

Casting her vote against the overrides, Republican Council Member Vickie Paladino said that the council was making their votes on both bills into a “racial issue.” That statement was met with groans among advocates in the balcony and stood in sharp contrast to several Black council members who in their own remarks recalled being stopped by police or instructing their kids how to respond when stopped by police. “We didn’t make this a race thing,” said Council Member Kevin Riley, recalling a time after he graduated college when he was stopped for no apparent reason on the Upper West Side. “This is a race thing.”

Council Member Yusef Salaam, who was wrongfully convicted of the 1989 rape of a jogger as a member of the Central Park Five – now Exonerated Five – grew emotional when casting his votes to override the vetoes of the How Many Stops Act and the solitary confinement legislation. “If these laws were in place in 1989…” Salaam said before trailing off and falling silent. “I vote aye.”