NYC Public Advocate Advances Police Accountability Legislation At Council Hearing

March 27th, 2023

Press Release

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams pushed to pass his police accountability bills at a hearing of the City Council Committee on Public Safety. He spoke in support of his legislation to expedite access to body camera footage and report on NYPD vehicle stops, as well as his bill to require transparency on all levels of police-civilian encounters, part of the How Many Stops Act.

“Every day, New Yorkers are stopped by the NYPD. Sometimes, this results in a search—a level three stop, where an officer has legal authority to detain someone and prevent them from leaving, colloquially known as “stop-and-frisk.” The NYPD is required to report on these stops, so we know that Black and Brown people are disproportionately stopped: Black and Latinx New Yorkers made up 91 percent of reported stops as of 2020…” said Public Advocate Williams in support of the How Many Stops Act. “We still, however, do not have the full picture of who is being stopped by the NYPD, as they are not currently required to report on level one and level two stops. Despite being lower-level stops, the feeling of being stopped, questioned, and possibly searched by police is indistinguishable from the experience of level three stops.”

Intro 586, one half of the How Many Stops Act, would would require the NYPD to report on all levels of police stops and encounters, including the location where they happened, the demographic information of those stopped, the factors that led to the interaction, and whether the encounter leads to any use of force or enforcement action. The act builds upon the Community Safety Act of 2013, which helped to address the abuses of stop, question, and frisk, and put in place an Inspector General for the NYPD. This new legislation also expands on the Right to Know Act passed in 2017.

Public Advocate Williams is also the prime sponsor of Intro 781, which would require the NYPD to include in vehicle encounter reports the justification used by an officer to conduct a vehicle stop, if an observed offense was cited as the justification for a vehicle stop, and whether the offense was at the level of an infraction, violation, misdemeanor or felony. With the New York Civil Liberties Union reporting that in 2022, 49 percent of drivers arrested following traffic stops were Black, and 39 percent were Latinx, this bill is an important tool for understanding the scope of and reasons for stops, as well as combating any persistent patterns of bias or injustice.

The Public Advocate further discussed the need to increase transparency surrounding the body-worn camera footage by passing Intro 585, which would require the NYPD to share all body-worn camera footage with the Department of Investigation’s Inspector General for the NYPD and the Department of Records and Information Services within 5 days of the recording. Public Advocate Williams is the co-prime sponsor of a related bill from Speaker Adrienne Adams, Intro 938, to require the NYPD to provide the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) with direct access to all footage recorded by officer body-worn cameras.

“In addition to underreporting on stops, the NYPD has historically shirked responsibility when it comes to granting access to body-worn camera footage,” argued the Public Advocate. “This lack of compliance with requests for access to body-worn camera footage seriously impedes investigations by oversight agencies, including the CCRB and the Department of Investigation’s OIG-NYPD. The NYPD has falsely denied that footage exists, or refused to turn over footage, citing embellished privacy issues, and have been generally slow to respond to requests.”

He closed saying that “We have seen time and time again that there is systemic bias still existing, and that the NYPD have consistently impeded any effort to hold them accountable by oversight agencies, elected officials, and members of the community. Increasing police presence in our communities will never increase public safety when the people in those communities only associate police with trauma, fear, discrimination, and abuse.”

The Public Advocate’s full statement to the committee is below. Read more about Intros 586, 781, and 585 here.

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS

TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY

MARCH 27, 2023

Good afternoon,

My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I would like to thank Chair Hanks and the members of the Committee on Public Safety for holding this important hearing and for hearing my bills. I also want to thank the Speaker for being present, and align myself with her statements. We often talk about some improvements that have occurred, but I do know and always say that the two buckets, as the Speaker mentioned, that haven’t seen any movement at all in my opinion are transparency and accountability.

Every day, New Yorkers are stopped by the NYPD. Sometimes, this results in a search—a level three stop, where an officer has legal authority to detain someone and prevent them from leaving, colloquially known as “stop-and-frisk.” The NYPD is required to report on these stops, so we know that Black and Brown people are disproportionately stopped: Black and Latinx New Yorkers made up 91 percent of reported stops as of 2020. Motor vehicle stop data for 2022 revealed similar disparities. The NYPD also disproportionately frisked and used force against Black and Latinx people. As we have seen all too often, these stops can escalate quickly to violent or even deadly situations.

We still, however, do not have the full picture of who is being stopped by the NYPD, as they are not currently required to report on level one and level two stops. Despite being lower-level stops, the feeling of being stopped, questioned, and possibly searched by police is indistinguishable from the experience of level three stops. That is why I have introduced Intro 0586-2022, which would require the NYPD to report on all levels of police stops and encounters, including the location where they happened, the demographic information of those stopped, the factors that led to the interaction, and whether the encounter leads to any use of force or enforcement action.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, in 2022, 49 percent of drivers arrested following traffic stops were Black, and 39 percent were Latinx. I have introduced Intro 0781-2022, which would require the NYPD to include in vehicle encounter reports the justification used by an officer to conduct a vehicle stop, if an observed offense was cited as the justification for a vehicle stop, and whether the offense was at the level of an infraction, violation, misdemeanor or felony. In order to effectively address racial bias in policing, we need to know the full scope of the problem—and in a time where Mayor Adams has resurrected the NYPD’s notorious Street Crime Unit, now called Neighborhood Safety Teams, this information is crucial. 

In addition to underreporting on stops, the NYPD has historically shirked responsibility when it comes to granting access to body-worn camera footage. This lack of compliance with requests for access to body-worn camera footage seriously impedes investigations by oversight agencies, including the CCRB and the Department of Investigation’s OIG-NYPD. The NYPD has falsely denied that footage exists, or refused to turn over footage, citing embellished privacy issues, and have been generally slow to respond to requests. While many other cities give their police oversight bodies direct access to body-worn camera footage, New York City does not, causing delays and roadblocks in the CCRB and OIG-NYPD’s investigations. These delays deny justice for victims of police abuse and brutality, and increase New Yorkers’ fear and distrust of the police.

My bill, Intro 0585-2022, and a bill I have sponsored with Speaker Adams, Intro 0938-2023, seek to increase and expedite oversight agencies’ access to body-worn camera footage. Intro 585 would require the NYPD to share all body-worn camera footage with OIG-NYPD and the Department of Records and Information Services within 5 days of the recording. Intro 938 would grant the CCRB direct access to all footage recorded by officer body-worn cameras. The CCRB would have real-time connectivity to network servers hosting digital files of body-worn camera footage, allowing them to search, view, and use files for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting allegations of police misconduct. 

We have seen time and time again that there is systemic bias still existing, and that the NYPD have consistently impeded any effort to hold them accountable by oversight agencies, elected officials, and members of the community. Increasing police presence in our communities will never increase public safety simply by itself when the people in those communities only associate police with trauma, fear, discrimination, and abuse. I look forward to working with the City Council, the CCRB, and OIG-NYPD to ensure that the NYPD complies with the bills we are hearing today.

I did want to also say that it’s important to talk about the disparity in these stops, and, I also mention, the disparity of violence that occurs in Black and Brown communities – often the latter is the excuse for the former. However, this is the same thing I heard ten years ago. And so if the response was supposed to solve the disparity in violence in our communities, it has not. It has never. It will never.

We are clear that there has to be some police activity due to certain things that are going on- yet we are clear that the overuse of policing will never solve these problems. Ten years we’ve been saying this. Black and Brown people have been shot and killed and harmed, and for ten years we’ve seen overpolicing, and it’s still the same disparity. So I’m hoping that in having these discussions, we don’t get the same pushback we always get, because it doesn’t help keep our communities safe.

What we’re asking for is simple changes. The Mayor, Eric Adams, was involved in actually getting the initial information we needed to get on these stops, now that we have it I’m hoping he’ll join us in this as well, and we can get forward to talking about the real issues of public safety and what police involvement is, as well as other agencies.  

Thank you.

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