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NYC Council Unveils Legislation Package for Police Accountability

In the latest move to restructure accountability for police forces, the New York City Council announced a slate of legislation aimed at reshaping the New York Police Department (NYPD). The proposed changes include the police commissioner being stripped of final say over disciplining officers, ProPublica reports.

These changes come after multiple reports emerged of NYPD officers mistreating civilians and evading significant punishment or even being promoted to top positions. Commissioners have also dismissed proposed penalties for wrongdoers.

The 11 bills and one resolution proposed include:

  • Removing the police commissioner’s final disciplinary authority over officers, enabling the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to impose discipline in cases involving use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language.

  • Ending qualified immunity for police officers. “The legislation is not intended to be vindictive—the personal liability is limited—but it seeks to ensure greater accountability, which is essential to fostering greater trust between communities and police," said Council Member Stephen Levin.

  • Requiring City Council confirmation of the police commissioner.

  • Investigating police officers with a history of bias, prejudice, intolerance, or bigotry. The bill would require the City Commission on Human Rights to investigate the employee’s work history to determine if an action was influenced by bias, turning over its findings to the NYPD for further action. “A person’s personal beliefs cannot and should not impact how they perform their job, especially when they have a duty to protect and serve all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson.

  • Creating a non-police emergency response for mental health emergencies. Under this bill, a citywide mental health emergency response protocol would be implemented, and such emergencies would be responded to by a mental health emergency response unit—not the police. According to ProPublica, the NYPD has killed at least 16 civilians who were experiencing a mental health crisis in the last few years, despite the NYPD’s de-escalation training and response protocols.

The legislative package also addresses the presence and impact of law enforcement in schools. One bill aims to reform the role of school safety agents, removing NYPD officers from school safety functions after June 2022 and reforming school safety powers so that agents can no longer make arrests, carry weapons or mechanical restraints, or wear law enforcement uniforms. School safety personnel would be retrained to focus on restorative justice, child and youth development, and de-escalation.

Another bill would regulate the NYPD’s response to children in emotional crisis within public schools by limiting the use of mechanical restraints on children in emotional crisis states. Safety personnel would receive training on identifying and responding to children in crisis.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has required local governments, including New York City, to adopt police reform plans by 1 April. The NYPD and New York City Major Bill de Blasio have offered their own changes, including a 57-page disciplinary matrix that outlines the punishments officers should face for misconduct. The police commissioner would still have the final decision on penalties, however, which critics say leaves the same door open to uneven discipline.