Should police have to report any time they stop a person on the street?
In New York, the question has divided local government as the City Council pushes to pass a bill, over the objections of Mayor Eric Adams, that would require officers to document basic information whenever they question someone. The issue was thrust into the national spotlight in recent days when NYPD officers pulled over a Black council member without giving him a reason.
The bill, dubbed the How Many Stops Act, is headed for a final council vote on Tuesday. Adams vetoed the legislation earlier this month, but council members expect to have enough support to override the veto and force through the bill’s passage.
Under the proposal, officers would have to record details on the apparent race, gender and ages of people they stop in low-level encounters where police are asking for information from someone who isn’t necessarily suspected of a crime.
Officers also would have to report the reason for the interaction and the circumstances that led to stopping a particular person. The data would then be posted on the police department’s website.
“All the How Many Stops Act does is it says whenever the NYPD is engaged in an official investigative encounter, they document it,” said Michael Sisitzky of the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
But Adams, a Democrat, has said the reporting requirements for low-level stops would be too time-consuming for officers, forcing them to fill out forms every time they speak to a person rather than focusing on solving a crime.
“When you talk about one individual incident, no, that doesn’t take a long time. But when it’s the accumulative of many different incidents in times it impacts that officer doing his job. It drives up overtime. It becomes duplicative,” Adams, a former NYPD captain, said Monday during an interview on WNYC radio.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, who sponsored the bill, disputes the mayor’s characterization. He says the reporting could be done in less than a minute on an officer’s smartphone and that it would inform the public about how officers are policing the city.
“It’s not interrupting police work. It is police work,” Williams said Monday.
Police stops in New York have long been the subject of scrutiny and intense debate.
In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD had violated the civil rights of Black and Hispanic residents with its use of the tactic known as “stop and frisk,” which was part of an effort to get guns and drugs off the street by frequently stopping and searching people on the street. Since then, the department has reported a large decline in such stops, though an ACLU report found people of color were still the targets of the vast majority of stop-and-frisks in 2022.
After the council first approved the How Many Stops Act in December, Adams and the NYPD went on the offensive to publicly campaign against it. On Friday night, the mayor hosted a police ride-along for council members in an effort to sway some lawmakers from voting to override his veto.
But the event was overshadowed earlier that evening when an officer pulled over Council Member Yusef Salaam, an exonerated member of the “Central Park Five” who with four other Black and Latino men were falsely accused and convicted of raping and beating a white jogger in Central Park in 1989. Their convictions were eventually overturned through DNA evidence.
In the very brief encounter, an officer asks Salaam to roll down his windows and identifies himself. Salaam tells the officer he is on the City Council and asks why he was pulled over, according to audio of the encounter published by The New York Times.
The officer backs off and tells Salaam, “Oh, OK. Have a good one” before walking away, body camera footage shows. The NYPD later released a statement that said Salaam was pulled over for driving with dark window tints beyond the legal limit. Adams praised the conduct of both the officer and Salaam in his WNYC interview.
Though such a stop would not be covered by the transparency bill — police already have to record information when they pull a driver over — Salaam argued the encounter underscored the need for greater police transparency.
“This experience only amplified the importance of transparency for all police investigative stops, because the lack of transparency allows racial profiling and unconstitutional stops of all types to occur and often go underreported,” Salaam said in a statement.
The Council is also set to vote Tuesday to override Adams’ veto of a bill that would ban solitary confinement in the city’s jails.
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