Last Thursday on the steps of City Hall, Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of more than 200 community groups, celebrated the start of the changes they believe will curtail abuses committed by police officers.
“Implemented properly, these reforms will end deceptive, coercive tactics that, for too long, have been used to harass New Yorkers and trick people into giving up their constitutional rights,” said Michael Sisitzky, policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The law has two parts. The Consent to Search law requires cops to ask a person for permission before they conduct a stop or search. Officers must inform the person of their right to deny the search, particularly if they do not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause of a crime.
The second component is the NYPD identification law, which would require officers to tell the civilian their full name, rank, command and reason for their interaction in certain situations. If the encounter does not end in a summons or arrest, the officer must give a business card with information on how to file a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).
The package of bills was passed by the City Council last December after years of organizing. The Right to Know Act was originally part of another piece of legislation, the Community Safety Act, that passed in 2013.
That bill instituted an inspector general for the NYPD for oversight, and explicitly banned profiling based on race, gender, sexual orientation and other categories.
But despite their victory, police reformers are weary about how the NYPD will implement the Right to Know Act. Sisitzky said the final version of the identification law in particular has many loopholes and carve-outs, including during traffic stops and other low-level interactions.
In addition, Sisitzky said the NYPD did not consult the community before issuing their new guidance. The police also did not meet with their coalition until a few weeks ago, after they drafted their new training materials.
Other criticisms they levied were not including interpretation services for people with limited English proficiency, not focusing on home and vehicle searches in protocol material, and the range of disciplinary consequences for when police violate the law.
Sisitzky said it appears the NYPD wants to hold onto “as much of the status quo as possible.”
“Ultimately, the extent to which these laws will make policing more transparent and accountable will depend on how they are implemented by the NYPD,” he said. “What we’ve seen so far gives us good reason to be skeptical that they’re implementing this faithfully.”
Brooklyn lawmakers who supported the reforms said while they are celebrating the beginning of the law, they too are watching how it is enforced.
“We want to make sure that the NYPD is well-aware that we are not going to be sleeping at the wheel while we’re celebrating,” said Councilman Antonio Reynoso. “We will hold them accountable, should they not do what the law is asking them to do. We will be paying attention.”
Councilman Brad Lander, who sponsored the Community Safety Act three years ago, said it should not have taken a multi-year campaign to pass straightforward measures. He said the original Right to Know Act, which had fewer exceptions, would have been easier to enforce.
“We will show up to ensure this law is implemented with fidelity,” he said.
The City Council will receive the first set of data on searches, as well as declined searches, in January. The statistics will break down the race, gender, age and location of stops.
Reynoso added that he hopes to have a hearing about those statistics to hold the police even more accountable to how the Right to Know Act is being implemented.
CPR members said at the rally that they will report violations to the CCRB, and are prepared to ramp up their know your rights and cop-watch trainings.
“Our cop watchers are on notice, we are putting eyes on the street,” said Yul-san Liem, co-director of the Justice Committee. “Tell your officers to fully implement the Right to Know Act, and tell them the streets are watching.”