In the wake of departmental findings that the former commanding officer of the NYPD’s Equal Employment Opportunity Division posted hundreds of blatantly racist comments on a quasi-public messaging board—triggering his—the City Council is considering legislation that would require the review of cases handled by the office between September 2014 and last November.
The bill would also require the City Commission on Human Rights to look into “past professional conduct” by NYPD employees found to have engaged in biased acts.
The bill’s sponsor, Bronx Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, said that although policing reforms were taking shape in the city, more remained to be done.
“Officers put their lives on the line every single day, and when anyone abuses their authority, we have to make sure they are all held accountable,” she said during a Feb. 8 remote hearing of the Council’s Committee on Civil and Human Rights, where the bill was introduced.
Citing the report by the Council’s Oversight and Investigations Division that laid out the case against then-Deputy Inspector James Kobel and subsequent findings that led to his recent firing, she said that past instances of police abuse called for a new law.
While she credited Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea for advancing a series of needed reforms, Ms. Gibson said “issues in police departments all across the country are not done in a silo, but we know that there are...continuously things that need to be done.”
George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis nine months ago, she said, “sparked a movement...that was further defined” and has led to her legislation. “I acknowledged that we have made a lot of progress,” she said, crediting advocates and activists. “But I also know that work remains to be done.”
Rights Panel's Mandate
The bill would require the Human Rights Commission to provide its findings and any recommendations to the NYPD, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Department of Investigation and District Attorneys, and report to the Mayor and the Council Speaker. It would also compel the Police Commissioner to respond to those findings and recommendations.
While the de Blasio administration appears to be on board with the legislation’s intent, a city official suggested that the CCRB would be better-equipped than the Human Rights Commission to follow up on past bias complaints.
Chelsea Davis, Chief Strategy Officer in the Office of the Deputy Mayor, said “a number of factors,” including “independence, expertise and capacity,” point to the CCRB as the best agency to conduct any investigations.
“We believe this is an important reform that will help build trust and accountability within the discipline system,” she said during the hearing, adding that the NYPD’s new discipline matrix holds that the presumptive penalty for either racial profiling or bias-based policing is termination.
Cites Implicit-Bias Training
Ms. Davis said the de Blasio administration and the NYPD were “100 percent committed to identifying and rooting out bias” and to holding officers accountable and doing so transparently. She said that all officers had completed a department-instituted implicit-bias training, which is now being expanded to include the department’s civilian workforce.
She also said that while there were sufficient safeguards in place within the NYPD’s Equal Opportunity Division―the office formerly headed by former Deputy Inspector Kobel―to ensure that complaints were handled properly, the department was going to bring in an independent consultant to review past cases, as well as the division’s policies and procedures.
Ms. Gibson’s bill is part of a package of legislation intended to recast the NYPD’s mission and responsibilities and, in the words of Council Speaker Corey Johnson, “reduce the NYPD’s footprint.”
Among the other measures that will be considered this month is one that would end qualified immunity for officers and subject the Mayor’s pick for Police Commissioner to Council approval. A resolution that would dilute the Commissioner’s “exclusive authority” over officer discipline by leaving the ultimate authority to the CCRB concerning use-of-force and abuse-of-authority cases, as well as offensive language, is also on the Council docket.
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