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NYPD officers to record race of people they stop after mayor’s veto overturned

New York City police officers will be required to record the apparent race, gender and ages of most people they stop for questioning under a new law (Yuki Iwamura/AP)
New York City police officers will be required to record the apparent race, gender and ages of most people they stop for questioning under a new law (Yuki Iwamura/AP)

New York City police officers will be required to record the apparent race, gender and ages of most people they stop for questioning under a law passed by the city council, which overrode a veto by Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday.

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 gives police reform advocates a major win in requiring the nation’s largest police department and its 36,000 officers to document all investigative encounters in a city that once had officers routinely stop and frisk huge numbers of men for weapons — a strategy that took a heavy toll on communities of colour.

It would require officers to document basic information in low-level encounters, where police ask for information from people who are not 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 be made public on the police department’s website.

New York City public advocate Jumaane Williams, who sponsored the Bill, said reporting the encounters could be done in less than a minute on an officer’s smartphone through a system already in place.

Police Stops
New York City Mayor Eric Adams (Peter K Afriyie/AP)

Since 2001, NYPD officers have been required to document instances in which they have asked someone “accusatory” questions as part of an investigation, detain or search someone or arrest them.

“This is not about preventing police work,” Mr Williams said. “This is police work.”

But the mayor, a Democrat and former police captain, has said imposing 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.

“If you talk to the victim of a crime or law enforcement professional, they will tell you: in public safety, seconds matter,” Mr Adams said on Tuesday at City Hall as he implored the council to let his veto stand.

“Anyone who has wrestled with a dangerous person and waited for help to come, anyone who’s tried to disarm someone with a knife, disarm someone with a gun, fighting on a platform, on the roadbed of the train, or inside an apartment and wrestling with someone who is dangerous: seconds matter.”

Republicans, by far the minority on the council, also oppose the Bill.

“Police are underfunded, understaffed and overworked,” said council member Vickie Paladino, a Queens Republican, ahead of the expected council vote.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, a Democrat who is not related to the mayor, pushed back Tuesday.

“There should not be resistance to telling people who is being stopped in this city and why,” she said.

In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD violated the civil rights of black and Hispanic residents with its stop-and-frisk tactic. Since then, the department has reported a large decline in such encounters, though an ACLU report found people of colour 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, Mr 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.

Yusef Salaam Traffic Stop-New York
Council member Yusef Salaam said he was stopped and pulled over by police without being given an explanation (Mary Altaffer/AP)

But the event was overshadowed that same 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 a white jogger in Central Park in 1989. Their convictions were eventually overturned through DNA evidence.

In the very brief encounter, an officer asked Mr Salaam to roll down his windows and identified himself. Mr Salaam told the officer he was on the city council and asked why he was pulled over, according to audio of the encounter published by The New York Times.

The officer told Mr Salaam, “Oh, OK. Have a good one” before walking away, body camera footage showed. The NYPD later released a statement that said Mr Salaam was pulled over for driving with dark window tints beyond the legal limit. Mr Adams praised the conduct of both the officer and Mr 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 — Mr Salaam argued that it shows 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,” Mr Salaam said in a statement.

The council’s public safety committee, which the Harlem Democrat chairs, approved overriding the mayor’s veto, a procedural step ahead of Tuesday’s full council vote.