NEW YORK – Levele Pointer has gone to rallies and City Hall to push for changes to police stop and frisks, but he readily explains that the stops he’s experienced personally didn’t always make him angry.
Sometimes, the 46-year-old felt police accosted him just because of where he was or how he looked, he says. But other times, police explained their reasoning in a way that made sense, even if he had done nothing wrong. And he hopes new laws enacted Thursday will foster more understanding like that between officers and citizens.
“Now we have some legislation in place that will allow us to do the things we need to do so we can have community policing,” said Pointer, who watched as the City Council overrode mayoral vetoes to create a new watchdog for the New York Police Department and make it easier for people to file profiling lawsuits against it.
The measures mark the most aggressive legislative effort in years to put new checks on the New York Police Department, and the vote came less than two weeks after a federal judge imposed new oversight of her own.
“Today marks a monumental civil rights victory for New Yorkers,” Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, the legislation’s sponsors, said in a statement.
The legislation drew national attention from civil rights groups and a vehement response from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who slapped it down earlier this summer. He said Thursday it will make it “harder for our police officers to protect New Yorkers and continue to drive down crime.”
The measures were propelled by concern about the NYPD’s use of the stop and frisk tactic and its extensive surveillance of Muslims, which was revealed in stories by The Associated Press.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin appointed an outside monitor to reform stop and frisk, a practice she said the police department had used in a way that violated the rights of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men. The city is appealing.
Supporters say the new laws, coupled with the judge’s ruling, will end practices they see as unfair, will mold a more trusted, effective police force and can change how other departments use the policy.
“What happens in New York city has consequences for the nation,” National Association for the Advancement of Colored People head Benjamin Jealous said at a City Hall rally before the vote.
Opponents said the measures would lower police morale but not crime, waste money and not solve a broader problem of a police force under pressure after shrinking by thousands of officers during the last decade.
“These bills are downright dangerous,” Councilman Eric Ulrich said.
Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the police force has driven crime down to record lows without racially profiling. They say that between the council measures and the court ruling, police will be tangled up in second-guessing and lawsuits.
“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,” Kelly said in a statement.
The inspector general will have subpoena power to examine the NYPD’s operations and policies. The other measure gives people more latitude to sue if they feel police targeted them because of their race, sexual orientation or certain other factors. The lawsuits could seek policy changes but not money.