NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday vetoed the most ambitious plan proposed in years for oversight of the New York Police Department, setting up an override showdown between him and lawmakers.
Bloomberg’s long-expected veto puts the proposals on course for their possible revival in an override vote later this summer. The measures would create an outside watchdog for the department and more latitude for lawsuits claiming discriminatory policing.
The latest in a decades-long history of efforts to impose more outside oversight on the nation’s biggest police force, the legislation crystallized from concerns over the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk tactics and its widespread surveillance of Muslims, spying that was disclosed in stories by The Associated Press.
But the mayor said in veto messages that the measures are “dangerous and irresponsible.” As he and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have before, Bloomberg argued that the legislation would 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 will not be deterred by false accusations or fear-mongering,” City Councilmen Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement. Bloomberg’s “actions have embarrassed this city and this country,” the statement said.
The legislation was passed in June while a federal judge was weighing a decision in a civil rights lawsuit over the stop-and-frisk practice. It attracted national attention among civil rights groups, and NAACP President Benjamin Jealous was among the spectators in the City Council chambers for the late-night vote.
The legislation would give people more latitude to sue in state court if they felt they were stopped because of bias based on race, sexual orientation 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 NYPD practices.
The watchdog measure passed with enough votes for an override. But the piece concerning discrimination lawsuits passed with just exactly the needed number.
Bloomberg has indicated he’ll 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. The bottom line is I make no bones about it: I’m telling you I’m going to support those candidates” who agree, he said this month.
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.
Meanwhile, backers of the measures have been trying to put public pressure on Bloomberg. The rapper Talib Kweli recently posted an online petition, saying “we cannot allow one wealthy mayor to stand in the way of progress.”
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.
Stop and frisk is legal, and Bloomberg and Kelly consider it a vital crime-fighting tool. They also say the demographics of the people stopped should be compared with descriptions of crime suspects, not with the makeup of the population as a whole, though not all stops are spurred by suspect descriptions. Some result from officers seeing suspicious behavior, for example.
Critics say the stops are racial profiling and cast suspicion on innocent people. Some have expressed similar feelings about the NYPD’s Muslim surveillance efforts, which entailed infiltrating Muslim student groups, putting informants in mosques and monitoring sermons. The department has said the initiatives were legal and part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks.
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