New York City police officers have a difficult and dangerous job. We should all be grateful for the sacrifices they make each day — which is why we strongly oppose two pieces of pending City Council legislation, together known as the “Right to Know Act.”
The “Right to Know Act” may sound innocuous, but these piecesof legislation set a dangerous precedent for public safety and endanger not only police officers, but regular New Yorkers as well.
The most critical concern comes from the provision requiring officers to inform members of the public of their right to refuse certain searches, and to obtain documentation of that consent before conducting the search.
We know we speak for a significant number of New Yorkers who were dismayed to learn through media reports that in the wake of two terror attacks, the Council would actually be taking steps to restrain the department’s ability to conduct lawful searches of individuals who may pose a public threat.
Nobody disputes the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure. However, consent to a search is not required under many circumstances, such as when it is pursuant to a warrant, supported by probable cause, or a limited frisk for weapons during a reasonable suspicion stop. The Right to Know Act does not change or eliminate these exceptions.
Unfortunately, members of the public often don’t recognize these distinctions. With all the heated rhetoric surrounding these bills, some will feel emboldened object to every form of police action, even when it’s constitutional and justified in order to ensure public safety. This will only increase the already contentious and combative environment police officers face on the street — a result that is bad for police officers and entire communities.
It is important to note that there are already procedures in place to ensure that New York City police officers both comply with department protocols and respect constitutional protections when conducting searches. If there is an incident where a person believes their rights have been violated, whether they are right or wrong, the place to litigate that is in the courtroom or at a disciplinary hearing, and not in the streets.
Another provision requires officers to identify themselves to individuals (which is already part of the NYPD’s procedures) and encourages them to call 311 to submit “comments” about the interaction, which suggests that any contact between police officers and the public may represent wrongdoing on the police officer’s part.
It invites the potential for false complaints in retaliation for legitimate police activity, which are already far too common (87% of allegations investigated by Civilian Complaint Review Board in 2016 were not substantiated).
Unsubstantiated complaints routinely derail the careers of hardworking police officers, causing them to lose out on promotional opportunities, overtime and favorable assignments — ramifications that impact their families as well.
On top of these harmful side effects, these bills are entirely unnecessary because the NYPD has already implemented many of their specific provisions as part of an agreement with the Speaker of the City Council. This level of micromanagement amounts to a vote of no confidence in the police commissioner.
More broadly, it’s the Assembly and Senate in Albany that are responsible for creating uniform standards for police procedures throughout our entire state. A patchwork of local laws will only create confusion, with one set of standards applying to NYPD officers and another applying to others working within New York City, including the Port Authority Police, state troopers and the MTA Police.
Too often, any perceived deficiency in the NYPD’s policies or management is pushed down onto the police officer on the street. When confronted by the increased liability, confusion and unnecessary friction that these mandates will generate, any rational police officer may hesitate to place his or her safety and career in jeopardy by engaging in proactive policing.
We have made too much progress in crime reduction and terror prevention to enact legislation that would prevent our police officers from doing their jobs effectively and safely.
Joe Borelli represents parts of Staten Island, Chaim Deutsch represents parts of Brooklyn and Paul Vallone represents parts of Queens in the City Council.