Council Reverses Bloomberg Veto of Policing Bills
The City Council voted Thursday to greatly increase oversight of the New York Police Department and of its widespread use of stop-and-frisk tactics.
Coming after historic crime declines stretching 20 years and aimed at a police force whose tactics long enjoyed strong support in City Hall and among many New Yorkers, the move on two bills marked a decisive swing of the pendulum toward reining in the practices of officers and the policies of their leaders.
The votes, a week and a half after a federal judge ruled aspects of police stops in the city unconstitutional, amounted to a stinging personal defeat for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. He has considered the policy to be central to one of his main achievements: a city safer than many hardened residents had thought possible.
The two bills, which the mayor had vetoed and will now become law, represented an effort by frustrated elected officials to force changes on the police from the outside — one through an outside inspector general with subpoena power to study and make policy recommendations to the department; and the other by opening state courts up to individual claims of bias-based policing and by expanding the categories of people entitled to sue.
Mr. Bloomberg immediately denounced the new laws as an effort to “outsource management of the N.Y.P.D. to unaccountable officials,” and he vowed to sue to stop the bill on expanding profiling claims. “It is a dangerous piece of legislation,” he said, “and we will ask the courts to step in before innocent people are harmed.”
For the mayor, who argued strenuously and repeatedly in public to head off the passage of the bills, the votes offered a stark reminder of his diminished ability to influence city politics in the waning months of his administration.
The 51-member Council, led by its speaker, Christine C. Quinn, enacted the two measures by voting to override Mr. Bloomberg’s earlier veto of both bills.
The Council voted overwhelmingly to create an independent inspector general for the department, with 39 in favor and 10 opposed. The second bill, which would expand the ability of New Yorkers to sue the police over bias-based profiling, passed with exactly the 34 votes necessary for an override. Ms. Quinn, who is running for mayor, voted against it. (Two members were absent from the vote.)
During the two hours of discussing and voting, supporters described the measures, collectively known as the Community Safety Act, as intended to increase trust in the Police Department. “No one on this floor is anti-N.Y.P.D.,” said Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat who was a co-sponsor of the legislation. “We are antipolicies that are not working.”
New York has by far the largest police department in the country, and its crime drop has been bigger and more sustained than in most other major cities. As a result, the contentious debate over how the police conduct stops has been closely followed.
At the heart of the issue is a debate about just how effective the stop-and-frisk policy is. A standard policing practice, police stops ballooned over the last decade as crime fell.
In the last year and a half, however, the Police Department has recorded significantly fewer stops, and crime has continued to go down. Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly have argued that the practice is crucial in their efforts to fight crime, and that recent declines in stops followed better training. Detractors say it is ineffective, turning up little criminal activity, and point to the continuing crime drop as proof.
For the second time in two weeks, Mr. Kelly bristled at the suggestion of racial profiling on his watch, saying in a statement that the legislation “will have an adverse impact not only on our police officers but more importantly on the people and the neighborhoods they serve, particularly in minority communities.”
Police unions have worried that officers would become fearful of litigation and, therefore, more hesitant to act on the street, endangering the public and themselves. On Thursday, Michael J. Palladino, the president of the Detectives Endowment Association, suggested that the Council could have “offset the reliance on stop-and-frisk” by increasing the size of the Police Department.
Councilman James S. Oddo, a Republican of Staten Island, in voting against both bills, also suggested that stop-and-frisk tactics had been a result of a smaller police force over the last decade and urged the next administration to “find the resources to bring the number of police officers back up to 40 or 41,000.”
Debate over the future of policing in New York has infused the complex and intense politics of the race to succeed Mr. Bloomberg. On Thursday, Ms. Quinn, wielding the powers of her incumbency, trumpeted the override as evidence of her ability to achieve concrete reforms while her rivals declaimed from the sidelines.
But Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, an opponent in the Democratic primary — who has made the change of stop-and-frisk practices a rallying cry of his liberal-leaning campaign — insisted on Thursday that Ms. Quinn had not gone far enough, accusing her of hypocrisy for not supporting the law that will open up state courts to lawsuits on racial profiling.
For Ms. Quinn, who is seeking to win over an increasingly discontented electorate, the day brought her most significant break yet from a long-cultivated partnership with Mr. Bloomberg, who had once seemed prepared to anoint her as his successor.
Instead, less than three weeks before the Democratic primary, Ms. Quinn forcefully rebuked a policy that Mr. Bloomberg considers central to his personal and political legacy.
Despite the political fighting, a jubilant atmosphere reigned before the vote among a crowd of activists and council members on the steps of City Hall, holding colorful signs and chanting: “Override veto, override!” After the vote, their cheers filled the Council chamber.
Questions remain over the practical effects the bills will have on police activity.
Opponents of the stop-and-frisk practice argued that the profiling bill would not result in a flood of lawsuits, because plaintiffs could not collect monetary damages.
It also is not clear how the inspector general, a permanent position with subpoena power inside the city’s Department of Investigation, will work with the federal monitor appointed last week by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of United States District Court in her stop-and-frisk decision. Mr. Bloomberg has argued that there are already enough layers of outside review over the Police Department.
The inspector general law will go into effect on Jan. 1, leaving the matter of filling the position, and sorting out how the occupant will work with the monitor, to the next mayor.
Ms. Quinn said on Thursday that she expected the inspector general would “start by looking at stop-and-frisk” and work closely with the federal monitor. Their interactions would most likely be determined by the court. On other issues, the inspector general will have the ability to address the entire range of police activities.
In issuing his veto last month, Mr. Bloomberg outlined his thinking on a possible court challenge to the profiling law, which takes effect in 90 days. He argued that its “restrictions on the use of stop, questions and frisk as an enforcement tool” were an attempt to “legislate in an area that has been wholly occupied” by New York State.
“Regulating criminal procedure,” he wrote, “is not a role for a local legislative body.”