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N.Y. creates cop watchdog, reins in ‘stop and frisk’

Bloomberg, AP

The New York City Council has created an inspector general to review police practices, overriding Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto and putting a check on the stop-and-frisk policy he championed as a crime-fighting tool.

The predominantly Democratic council voted 39 to 10 Thursday to pass the inspector general measure and 34 to 15 to nullify a second veto of a bill allowing lawsuits when an officer uses racial profiling as a reason for questioning someone. Votes by at least 34 of the council’s 51 members are required to override a mayoral veto.

The inspector general vote followed a federal court ruling this month that police violated the U.S. Constitution with stop-and-frisk encounters with hundreds of thousands of mostly black and Hispanic young men. To restrain the practice, U.S. District Judge Shira Sheindlin appointed a monitor she said would ensure that police act lawfully.

“It is a smart policing idea that will keep us the safest big city in America, but do it in a way that reunites police and community and do it in a way so that people who have a concern about policies and practices will have a place to go to have their voices heard,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said at a news briefing before the vote.

Benjamin Jealous, the head of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the country’s most prominent civil rights organizations, suggested that police elsewhere look to the NYPD as an example.

“What happens in New York city has consequences for the nation,” Jealous said.

Bloomberg, 71, has said the council’s laws and the court-appointed monitor would hinder patrol officers’ ability to make split-second decisions on the street, making it more difficult to fight crime and terrorism.

Of 4.3 million stop-and-frisk searches in the past nine years, more than 80 percent were of blacks and Latinos, and less than 1 percent of the cases led to recovery of a gun, according to the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, the plaintiff in the federal lawsuit.

Bloomberg says stop-and-frisk helped reduce crime 34 percent since he became mayor in 2002. The city had 25 percent fewer homicides this year through mid-June compared with the same period in 2012, when it had 417, according to police data.

The numbers show that New York is the safest big U.S. city, Bloomberg said.

“Unfortunately, these dangerous pieces of legislation will only hurt our police officers’ ability to protect New Yorkers and sustain this tremendous record of accomplishment,” Bloomberg said in June, after the bills were passed.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP. A political independent, he is barred by law from seeking a fourth term. Quinn, 47, a Manhattan Democrat, is one of seven in her party seeking to succeed him next year.

Quinn said the inspector general’s power will be limited to making policy recommendations to the mayor and police commissioner, while the federal monitor will oversee only the stop-and-frisk tactics.

She voted against the racial-profiling bill, she said, because such police activity is already against federal law.

Of the other major Democratic mayoral candidates, support for both measures came from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Comptroller John Liu. Those opposing both bills include former Comptroller William Thompson and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.