Citing Public Safety, Bloomberg Vetoes NYPD Oversight

NEW YORK (AP) -

Calling outside police oversight “dangerous and irresponsible,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday vetoed the city council’s most ambitious new oversight proposed in years for the New York Police Department, setting up an override showdown with lawmakers both sides say they will win.

Bloomberg’s long-expected veto puts the proposals on a course toward what could be a dramatic override vote later this summer. The council has 30 days from when the council receives the veto, Wednesday — until Aug. 21 — to vote to override the veto.

The measures would create an outside watchdog for the department and a broader path for lawsuits claiming discriminatory policing. The latest in the decades-long history of efforts to impose more outside input on the nation’s biggest police force, the legislation is crystallized from concerns about the NYPD’s extensive use of the stop-and-frisk tactic and its widespread surveillance of Muslims.

The mayor and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have argued that the legislation will undermine safety by deluging the department in lawsuits and inquiries, making officers hesitant to act for fear of coming under scrutiny and undercutting policing techniques that have cut crime dramatically in recent years.

Civil rights advocates and other proponents say the measures will make the city safer by repairing frayed trust between police and citizens who feel unfairly targeted by stops and surveillance.

“We can have safety and police accountability at the exact same time,” City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who joined Councilman Brad Lander in leading the push for the legislation, said when lawmakers debated the measure.

Lander told Hamodia that he was convinced the measure would stand.

“I think the mayor hasn’t even made any good arguments. … He hasn’t engaged on the merits,” Lander said.

The City Council passed the legislation in June with enough votes for an override. But the piece concerning discrimination lawsuits passed with just exactly the needed number.

Bloomberg has indicated he’d try to persuade lawmakers to change their minds, and the billionaire mayor has suggested he might amplify his message with campaign contributions.

“We’ll see what I’m going to do,” he said earlier this month. “The bottom line is I make no bones about it: I’m telling you I’m going to support those candidates” who agree.

The powerful Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association police union has sent thousands of fliers targeting some lawmakers who supported the measures. The mailings tell voters their council members “voted against public safety” and urge constituents to call and complain.

The bill making it easier to sue for being stopped over racial profiling passed with a comfortable margin. However, the measure setting up an inspector general squeaked by with 34 votes, the precise number needed to override a veto. If Bloomberg peels off one council member, his veto would be sustained.

But backers of the bill say they are not worried

“I’m more worried about the summer vacation than about people switching their votes,” Lander said. “We need all 34 of those people, and if they go on the same day to summer camp or they go on vacation…”

The legislation would give people more latitude to sue in state court if they felt they were stopped because of bias based on race or certain other factors. The suits couldn’t seek money, just court orders to change police practices.

Another provision would establish an inspector general with subpoena power to explore and recommend, but not force, changes to the NYPD’s policies and techniques.

City police have conducted about 5 million stop and frisks during the past decade; arrests resulted about 10 percent of the time. Those stopped are overwhelmingly black or Hispanic — about 87 percent in the last two years. Blacks and Hispanics make up 54 percent of the city population, but about 90 percent of victims or perpetrators of armed violence.

Stop and frisk is legal, and Bloomberg and Kelly consider it a vital crime-fighting tool.