Council overrides mayor’s veto, OK’s police watchdog
The City Council on Thursday overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vetoes to create a watchdog for the nation’s biggest police department and make it easier to file profiling claims against officers amid applause from supporters and angry warnings from opponents.
Bloomberg, who had slapped down the legislation earlier this summer, said the new oversight at the New York Police Department will make it “harder for our police officers to protect New Yorkers and continue to drive down crime.”
“Make no mistake: The communities that will feel the most negative impacts of these bills will be minority communities across our city, which have been the greatest beneficiaries of New York City’s historic crime reductions,” he said in a statement.
Proponents see the oversight as a check on a police force that’s come under scrutiny for its heavy use of a tactic known as stop-and- frisk and its extensive surveillance of Muslims. A packed spectators’ gallery erupted in cheers when the council’s vote was announced. Later, supporters exchanged hugs outside City Hall.
“Today marks a monumental civil rights victory for New Yorkers,” Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, legislation sponsors, said in a statement. “New Yorkers now know that police officers will now ‘serve and protect’ all New York City residents, regardless of race [or] ethnicity.”
The profiling bill passed with the minimum votes necessary, 34-15, while the inspector general proposal passed 39-10. The lawsuit-related component of the bill passed in June with just the 34 votes needed to override a veto.
The debate on the bills veered into the personal and the historical, as lawmakers invoked the upcoming 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and discussed their constituents’ and their own experiences with bias. Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who is Hispanic, reflected on her hopes for her son.
“I … know he’s coming into a better New York City,” she said.
But proponents of the practice, which Bloomberg said saved more than 7,000 mostly minorities lives over the past 12 years, said the measures would lower police morale but not crime, waste money and not solve a broader societal problem.
“Both bills outsource management of the NYPD to unaccountable officials, making it harder for the next mayor and police commissioner to make the decisions they believe necessary to keep our city safe,” said Bloomberg, who is stepping down at the end of this year. Most of the Democrats vying to replace him praised the override while the Republicans called it dangerous.
“Today’s vote is an example of election year politics at its very worst and political pandering at its most deadly,” he said.
Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that the smaller police force has nonetheless driven crime down without racial profiling. They say that police will be tangled up in second-guessing and lawsuits.
“There is a reason major law enforcement organizations are all against this legislation,” Kelly said in a statement. “It 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.”