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New York City Council To Vote On Tough Police Oversight Laws


In New York, the city council is poised to vote today on some of the toughest police oversight laws in decades. The vote comes just weeks after a judge ruled that the NYPD violated the civil rights of minorities with its practice of stopping mostly young men of color on the streets.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is appealing the judge's ruling and refusing to back down on a policing program he has championed. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin found that the New York Police Department's use of the tactic known as stop-and-frisk amounts to indirect racial profiling of blacks and Latinos. Retired Sergeant Noel Leader says there are plenty of former and current NYPD officers who agree.

NOEL LEADER: Because they're still on the job, they can't be outspoken. But they understand exactly what's going on, and are now being forced to have this unnecessary contact with non-threatening, innocent civilians.

ROSE: Leader is the cofounder of the group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. Done correctly, he says, warrantless stops are an important tool for police, but only when those stops are based on reasonable suspicion, not on skin color.

LEADER: Stops are only good when they're legal. You don't stop crime by committing crimes.

ROSE: Leader is one of several NYPD veterans who spoke at a press conference this week in support of two city council bills aimed at increasing oversight of the nation's largest police department.

Anthony Miranda is a retired sergeant and chair of the National Latino Officers Association. He says the department's internal oversight procedures don't work.

ANTHONY MIRANDA: It gives officers and the community somewhere else to go to to legally file complaints when they can believe that they can have a justifiable investigation and get the results that they need.

ROSE: The bills would create a permanent inspector general to oversee the department. And they would make it easier for residents to sue for racial profiling. Critics have seized on that second part, arguing it could create millions of dollars in new liabilities for the city and make a difficult job even harder.

Here's New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: These are both ill-considered bills, which would put the public and our police officers in real, serious danger, and could reverse the striking, dramatic and wonderful reduction in crime that this city has experienced over the last 10 years or 20 years.

ROSE: Bloomberg insists that the department's use of stop-and-frisk tactics is legal, and that it's a big reason why the city's violent crime rate is lower than it's been in decades. And just in case New Yorkers have forgotten how bad things used to be, the mayor invited retired Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, now 94 years old, to refresh their memories at a press conference earlier this summer.

ROBERT MORGENTHAU: If this legislation is enacted, it's going to be a major disincentive for police officers to stop people, question them and frisk them. And that's going to be, frankly, a disaster for the city.

ROSE: The city council voted to pass the bills, anyway. That was in June. Bloomberg vetoed the bills in July. Now the council will try to override his veto today. The primary sponsor of the bills, City Councilman Jumaane Williams, dismisses claims that they'll lead to a jump in crime.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Well, all of these things are about fear-mongering and not based in facts.

ROSE: Williams says he's optimistic the bills will pass, in spite of reported behind-the-scenes efforts by Bloomberg to kill them. Instead of fighting the bills, retired NYPD Captain Karyn Carlo would like to see the administration turned toward what's known as community-based policing.

KARYN CARLO: But in order to have community-based policing, you need to have the trust and the respect of the community. And that is what is broken right now.

ROSE: Carlos says New Yorkers shouldn't have to choose between safety and justice.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

MONTAGNE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.