July 15, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Do New York City police officers need be periodically retrained in how to properly respect the Constitutional rights of those they are charged to serve and protect? Advocates for a package of new bills aimed at reforming policing in this town say, “yes.”
On Thursday, Council Member Rosie Mendez [D-2nd District], member of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, told LaborPress that cops — like those in many other professions — should be required to undergo periodic retraining.
“They need training, and as far as I’m concerned, they need retraining,” Council Member Mendez said. “I’m a lawyer, and every year I have to take legal education credits to maintain my license. Quite frankly, I believe that police officers should get retraining and it should be a part of them remaining in good standing to do their job.”
The East Side legislator joined fellow Council Members Jumaane Williams [D-45th District], Hellen Rosenthal [D-6th District], Inez Barron [D-42nd District] and others on the steps of City Hall this week to advocate for a new measure further codifying the Constitutional right citizens already have to record police officers performing their duties.
Known as the “Right to Record” bill, the measure follows on the heels of the “Right to Know Act” which had sought to codify police and community interactions. That effort, however, was denied a City Council vote following closed door talks between the de Blasio administration, City Council leaders and NYPD brass.
“For how long has the NYPD turned its unblinking surveillance eye on communities while at the same time retaliating against us for recording them?” said Johanna Miller, advocacy director, New York Civil Liberties Union. “The council has the power to correct this imbalance now. Being recorded is not a threat to police officers – but it is a threat to the status quo. And we’re in a moment in this nation right now where we need critical action against the status quo.”
Recent video of police shooting to death Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota and Delrawn Small right here in Brooklyn, have forced the issue of systemic police misconduct back to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness.
“There is a blue wall that exists in this city,” Council Member Mendez said. “That blue wall exists in this city, in this state and in this nation. That blue wall creates a blue wall of silence where good police officers cannot talk about what the bad officers have done. That blue wall creates racism. A racism that is internalized. It institutionalized. It is routinized and it is accepted.”
Council Member Williams said that it is important for the NYPD to continually look at its policies in order to “make policing better.”
“And it’s our job to figure out where the gaps are and where [policies are] not being followed even though they’re there," the Brooklyn lawmaker said.
Despite the City Council vote that has been denied the “Right to Know Act,” Council Member Williams said that he is looking forward to the NYPD’s cooperation in passing the “Right to Record” bill, as well as help in educating officers about “what they can and cannot do.”
“My hope is that when we have the hearing, the NYPD will come in as partners since they know that we have this right anyway, and they understand the problems we’ve been having — they’ve arrested people when they shouldn’t have arrested people,” Council Member Williams said.
To date, the only person to be arrested at the scene of Eric Garner's death on Staten Island two years ago, is the man who recoreded cops applying the choke hold that caused his death – Ramsey Orta.
Council Member Mendez is not as optimistic about the NYPD’s cooperation, and suggested that the “Right to Record” bill could get an unorthodox vote on the floor without the benefit of a hearing.
“If the Police Department wanted to pass rules regarding what we know as the ‘Right to Know Act,’ they could have done it, and they’ve not done it,” Council Member Mendez said. “I would like to think the police will come to the table, but I don’t think they will. They haven’t taken any measures on their own to address any of these issues when they could have.”
The Black, Latino and Asian Caucus reportedly last met with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to discuss policing reforms back in April.
When asked, a spokesperson for the NYPD dismissed the kind of training Council Member Mendez is now suggesting, saying that police officers already undergo "in service training."