siren call

A Drive to Demand Details on Motorists Stopped by Cops

Councilmember Donovan Richards (D-Queens) is sponsoring a bill that would require the NYPD to publicly report the race or ethnicity of drivers pulled over during traffic stops.
Councilmember Donovan Richards (D-Queens) is sponsoring a bill that would require the NYPD to publicly report the race or ethnicity of drivers pulled over during traffic stops. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The NYPD would be required to publicly report the race or ethnicity of drivers pulled over during traffic stops, under an anti-profiling bill before the City Council.

“The reason we’re doing this is because we know the reality — especially as a black man myself — that driving while black and brown is real,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards (D-Queens), sponsor of the measure, which was introduced last week. “This data will tell us if communities are unfairly being targeted.”

Richards hopes information collected will provide an argument for strengthening the Right to Know Act, which mandates that police identify themselves by name in many interactions with the public — but excludes traffic stops from the requirement.

“This bill is one piece of the larger puzzle in re-engaging in that conversation around the Right to Know Act for car stops,” said Richards, who chairs the Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Business Cards Required

One of the two bills under the act, which the City Council passed in late 2017 and went into effect last October, makes cops provide business cards to people they stop in certain non-emergency encounters.

The identification requirement initially was meant to apply to traffic stops, as well as to police checkpoints and roadblocks. But the final legislation eliminated those types of encounters after 11th-hour negotiations with the NYPD and City Hall, according to advocates.

Richards’ proposed legislation would require the NYPD to report on the number of times officers issue summonses, make an arrest, use force or seize a vehicle following a traffic stop.

It also would reveal the total number of drivers pulled over by the NYPD — a figure advocates believe has grown as stop-and-frisk encounters have plummeted.

“One thing we’d heard anecdotally outside Manhattan is that while we saw a drop in the number of reported stop-and-frisks, people were experiencing more traffic stops,” said Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, an NYPD spokesperson, said the department opposes the proposed bill because it would prolong traffic stops by turning them into “census data” collection, and take police away from more important duties.

The Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents rank-and-file police officers, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Most Consent Requests Granted

The other component of the Right to Know Act requires police to get consent to search a person, their home or vehicle when there’s no firm legal basis to do so.

Data show a vast majority of people have granted consent to a search even though they’re not required to. From Oct. 19, 2018, to June 30, 2019, more than 90% of “consent to search” requests made by police were granted, according to NYPD data.

Just 152 of the 1,617 police officer requests to conduct a search over that time period were denied, the numbers show.

Information about the Right to Know Act, which went into effect in October
Information about the Right to Know Act, which went into effect in October Photo: Civilian Complaint Review Board

Under the Right to Know Act, police are required to tell people in cases where no legal basis for a search exists that they have a right to decline — an interaction that must be documented either by body camera footage or in writing.

Preliminary data also show a relatively small number of complaints that officers didn’t identify themselves or provide a business card during an encounter.

In the first six months after the act was implemented, the Civilian Complaint Review Board received 332 allegations that a police officer failed to provide a business card, the agency’s director told City Council on April 29. The Board also handled 150 complaints that officers refused to identify themselves by name.

Complaints Filed Online

The business cards don’t just contain the name, rank and command of the officer, but also the URL of a website that allows people to request body camera footage of their encounter, get a copy of the report on their stop or file a complaint.

Cynthia Conti-Cook, a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society, said the handing out of business cards isn’t just about making it easier to lodge grievances against cops.

“Filing complaints is certainly a part of it, but I think it’s mostly about accountability from one person to another,” she said. “If I’m going to stop you on the street, anonymity is not something I should be holding over you.”

If Richards’ legislation passes, the first batch of traffic stop data would be due in January 2020.

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