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Council overrides mayor's veto, OK's watchdog

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POSTED August 22, 2013 9:54 p.m.

NEW YORK (AP) — The nation's biggest police department will get a new watchdog and face easier standards for people to file profiling lawsuits against it after the City Council on Thursday overrode mayoral vetoes amid applause from supporters and angry warnings from opponents.

The measures mark the most aggressive legislative effort in years to put new checks on the New York Police Department, and the vote came less than two weeks after a federal judge imposed new oversight of her own.

"Today marks a monumental civil rights victory for New Yorkers," Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, the legislation's sponsors, said in a statement.

The legislation drew national attention from civil rights groups and a vehement response from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who slapped it down earlier this summer. He said Thursday it will make it "harder for our police officers to protect New Yorkers and continue to drive down crime."

"Make no mistake: The communities that will feel the most negative impacts of these bills will be minority communities across our city, which have been the greatest beneficiaries of New York City's historic crime reductions," he said in a statement.

Proponents see the measures as needed oversight for a police force that's come under scrutiny for its heavy use of a tactic known as stop and frisk and its extensive surveillance of Muslims, which was revealed in stories by The Associated Press.

Douglas Bryant, an educator from the Bronx who said he's been unfairly stopped by police a couple of times, went to City Hall to watch the council's vote.

"I hope this will give the police some sense that our voice can be heard sometimes, such as today," Bryant said.

A packed spectators' gallery erupted in cheers when the vote was announced. Later, supporters exchanged hugs outside.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin appointed an outside monitor to reform stop and frisk, a practice she said the police department had used in a way that violated the rights of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men. The city is appealing.

Supporters say the new laws, coupled with the judge's ruling, will end practices they see as unfair, will mold a more trusted, effective police force and can change how other departments use the policy.

"What happens in New York city has consequences for the nation," National Association for the Advancement of Colored People head Benjamin Jealous said at a City Hall rally before the vote.

The debate on the bills veered into the personal and the historical, as lawmakers invoked the upcoming 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and discussed their constituents' and their experiences with bias. Williams teared up as the vote roll call neared its end.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who's Hispanic and 8 1/2 months pregnant, reflected on her hopes for her unborn son.

"I look forward to giving birth to this young man because I know he's coming into a better New York City," she said.

Opponents said the measures would lower police morale but not crime, waste money and not solve a broader problem of a police force under pressure after shrinking by thousands of officers during the last decade.

"These bills are downright dangerous," Councilman Eric Ulrich said.

The profiling bill passed with the minimum votes necessary, 34-15, while the proposal for an inspector general passed 39-10.

Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the police force has driven crime down to record lows without racially profiling. They say that between the council measures and the court ruling, police will be tangled up in second-guessing and lawsuits.

"It will have an adverse impact not only on our police officers but more importantly on the people and the neighborhoods they serve, particularly in minority communities," Kelly said in a statement.

The inspector general will have subpoena power to examine the NYPD's operations and policies. The other measure gives people more latitude to sue if they feel police targeted them because of their race, sexual orientation or certain other factors. The lawsuits could seek policy changes but not money.

 

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