NEW YORK (AP) — Lawmakers said Thursday they were set to add another dose of oversight for the New York Police Department after a federal judge rapped one of its core tactics as racially discriminatory and appointed a monitor to oversee changes.
The City Council, in a showdown with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police leaders, was due to vote on overriding Bloomberg's vetoes to establish an inspector general for the nation's largest police force and make it easier to take discriminatory-policing claims to court.
The measures mark the most aggressive legislative effort in years to put new checks on the NYPD. And the vote comes less than two weeks after U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin's order for a monitor to focus on stop and frisk, a practice she said the department had used in a way that violated the rights of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men. The city is appealing.
Thursday's vote could be very close. The lawsuit-related component of the legislation passed in June with just the 34 votes needed to override a veto. At a rally before the meeting, activists chanted "34" and held signs that said, "Override."
"What happens in New York city has consequences for the nation," National Association for the Advancement of Colored People head Benjamin Jealous said, suggesting that police elsewhere look to the NYPD as an example. "When we win the victory here, will win a victory for the nation."
Two of the council members whose attendance was in question made it to City Hall in time. Councilman Fernando Cabrera returned from Lima, Peru, for the vote.
"We need to hold the line today, and we're going to make history," he said.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said Thursday there were enough votes expected, though she opposes the lawsuit component. She supports the inspector general.
Civil rights groups and minority advocates have pushed for the legislation. It's been propelled by complaints about stop and frisk and the department's extensive surveillance of Muslims, as disclosed in stories by The Associated Press.
The laws will bring "oversight, transparency, accountability and, yes, efficiency, to the NYPD," said Fahd Ahmed, the legal director of Desis Rising Up and Moving, a South Asian advocacy group with mostly poor, Muslim members.
Supporters say the new laws, coupled with the judge's ruling, would end practices they see as unfair and would mold a more trusted, effective police force.
Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly say that between the council measures and the court ruling, a police force that has fought crime down to record lows will be tangled up in second-guessing and lawsuits.
"We think both pieces of legislation are unwise and will undermine public safety," Kelly said Wednesday.
If Thursday's override vote succeeds, the NYPD will get a watchdog with subpoena power to examine the NYPD's "operations, policies, programs and practices" — not just stop and frisk, like the court monitor. But the court's appointee could compel action through the judge; the inspector general could just make recommendations.
The legislation also would give people more latitude to sue in state court if they felt police targeted them because of their race, sexual orientation or certain other factors. The suits could seek policy changes but not money.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.
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