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The Cops

Cartoon Burglars, Glitzy Bar Mitzvahs, and a Veto: Mayor Adams Is Trying Everything to Block This NYPD Transparency Law

It's not clear why the mayor picked this fight.

A packed house for the mayor's veto presser.

City Hall’s Blue Room was packed with mayoral allies for the veto announcement (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

For the second time in his first term as mayor, the City Council is poised to override the veto of Mayor Eric Adams, and it's not clear why the mayor picked this fight in the first place.

On Friday morning, Mayor Adams assembled a group of faith leaders and police allies to announce that he was vetoing the How Many Stops Act (HMSA), a package of legislation cosponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams that the City Council passed in late December, in large part to address the rise of illegal police stops the NYPD has been making over the last several years. 

The mayor also said he will veto a bill the council passed last month that banned solitary confinement in City jails, though he refused to admit at the press conference he would issue that veto, instead sending out a press release later on. City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams then issued two statements, vowing to override both of Adams's vetoes. 

The How Many Stops Act requires police officers to log basic demographic information for low-level stops known as Level 1 stops, in the NYPD's patrol guide parlance. These stops are supposed to be information gathering (As in: "Did you see a blue Mazda hit the bus and drive away?") and not treat the subject as a suspect. There are two other more intensive types of stops—a Level 2 stop and a Level 3 stop, which is a full stop-and-frisk—that officers already document. The legislation also requires the NYPD to compile quarterly reports on Level 1 and Level 2 stops, and to also document instances in which someone refuses a police search. 

All of this might make the NYPD more transparent, but as police reform measures, they're a far cry from 2018's Right to Know Act, or 2019's charter revision that allowed the CCRB to investigate police lying. Still, that hasn't stopped the mayor and his deputies from repeatedly attacking the legislation. When the council passed the legislation on December 20, the mayor said these new reporting requirements would "unquestionably make the city less safe," and that he was reviewing his options.

As part of Adams's full-court press against the How Many Stops Act, he has all but called Williams a coward for living in Fort Hamilton, a military base in Brooklyn; took the mic at a glitzy bar mitzvah and railed against the laws; and scolded the real estate industry for not doing more to change public opinion about the measures. This week, the NYPD and the mayor both issued hamfisted videos depicting a world in which NYPD officers are literally unable to do their jobs because of the laws' transparency mandates. The mayor's features a cartoon burglar, an officer buried in stacks of paper, and illegally parked NYPD cruisers.

In his veto announcement on Friday afternoon, Mayor Adams himself avoided any personal attacks, and insisted his decision had nothing to do with City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams or the intentions of the 35 councilmembers who voted for the legislation, just that it was "extremely detrimental to public safety in the city."

"We cannot handcuff the police, we want to handcuff bad people," Adams said. 

Not everyone showed this level of restraint.

"Don't tie a cop's hand on your political status," Jackie Rowe-Adams, an ally of the mayor who lost two sons to gun violence, told the crowd. "Do not think negative all the time about police, because when something happens, who you going to call? Who are you going to call? You're not going to call Ghostbusters…And you're definitely not going to call Jumaane Williams because he gonna be hidin' some place."

NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey then offered an example of the supposedly onerous burden of filling out a little more paperwork.

"November, I was standing at the finish line of the marathon," Maddrey said. "I see one of the runners, he comes across, he's standing there, he gets a little woozy. I look at him, I say, 'Are you all right? Can I get you a Gatorade?' He says yes. If you look at the terms of that bill, based on that, I would have to do a report," Maddrey said. "I have to do a piece of paper."

While the NYPD patrol guide states that casual interactions with the public need not be documented, Maddrey's scenario might require him to note that he asked someone if they needed medical attention, though Michael Sisitzky, an attorney and the assistant policy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, called this example "misleading."

"These are by far not the majority of interactions that are taking place at this level," Sisitzky told Hell Gate. "We're not talking about this as the quintessential example of a Level 1 encounter. Most of these occur when an officer is actually investigating something."

Sisitzky pointed out that the retired judge overseeing the remedial process that arose from 2013's landmark stop-and-frisk decision determined that recording demographic information for Level 1 stops wouldn't meaningfully create more work for police officers. Indeed, in 2018 the judge ordered the NYPD to begin a study recording data for Level 1 stops in some precincts, but allowed the NYPD to scrap the requirement when COVID made the logistics of the study impractical. 

"Retired Judge Belen found that this should be something that would be really simple for the department to implement and would impose almost no additional burden on officers beyond just a few seconds of clicking a few preset menu items on their smartphones," Sisitzky said. "This is not going to overburden police, it's not going to slow down their response time. This is something that they have the tools already to implement."

The NYPD Patrol Guide already requires officers to "record their daily activities in the digital Activity Log application" on their phones or in a paper notebook, including "information pertinent to an assignment," "action taken," and "tasks performed." But activity logs, unlike the reporting on encounters required by the legislation, aren't public.

The NYPD has stated that the new law would generate another 25 million minutes in additional work time for its officers. The department did not answer Hell Gate's questions about how it generated this eye-popping figure, or over what time period it measured. 

But 25 million minutes over the course of the whole year is 416,666 hours, and divided amongst 36,000 uniformed NYPD officers, works out to under one hour each month, per officer.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams holds a press conference right after the mayor's (Hell Gate)

Asked why Adams didn't do more to lobby or change the legislation before it was passed, Deputy Mayor Fabien Levy said the mayor tried to, "behind the scenes."

"We did plenty of this pushing before the bill was passed, but the mayor's step in the process publicly is a veto," Levy said. "He did plenty of things behind the scenes."

At his own press conference at City Hall, Public Advocate Williams characterized Adams's veto of the police transparency legislation as another lie told by the administration.

"It's unclear what to do when a leader of that magnitude will lie at that magnitude," Williams said. "Just yesterday, the Independent Budget Office said that the mayor intentionally misled New Yorkers on how bad the budget was. What we saw today is the mayor moving from misleading about the budget to misleading about policy. That's hard to watch in a city that needs better leadership than Donald Trump misinformation."

The federal monitor overseeing the stop-and-frisk case issued a report earlier this year that found one out of every four stops conducted by the NYPD's new Neighborhood Safety Teams created by the Adams administration were unconstitutional, that NYPD supervisors routinely approved of the illegal stops, and that nearly everyone they stopped—97 percent—were Black or Latino.

"The mayor keeps saying that officers should be doing police work and not paperwork. This is police work," Sisitzky said. "And if we are seeing reported numbers of stops on the rise with racial disparities, as bad as they have ever been, if we're seeing an uptick in low-level enforcement and summons activity and arrest activity, we need to have more oversight and more transparency to actually understand what the impact is." 

While Adams has been extremely vocal about the threat he believes asking NYPD officers to record a little more data each month poses to public safety, he's said less about the solitary ban. At Friday's press conference, he briefly denied the existence of solitary confinement in New York State, and left before taking any substantive questions about it.

But some council members, in vowing to override that veto, had some harsh words for the mayor."To state it simply: The mayor’s veto is a choice to perpetuate cruelty," Brooklyn City Councilmember and newly appointed Criminal Justice Committee chair Sandy Nurse said in a statement. "It dismisses the anguished cries from the families of Layleen Polanco, Brandon Rodriguez, Elijah Muhammad, Erick Tavira, and others who unjustly lost their lives in solitary confinement on Rikers Island."

With reporting from Nick Pinto.

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