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After Obama Policing Task Force Endorses Right to Know Act, Advocates and Elected Officials Call for NYC Council to Schedule Hearing and Pass Legislation

President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing cited provisions of legislation in final report among critical recommendations to improve policing released during Obama Camden visit

A day after the President Obama-appointed Task Force on 21st Century Policing released its final report, which endorsed policies advanced by the pending Right to Know Act in the New York City Council, advocates and elected officials called for New York to demonstration national leadership by scheduling a hearing and passing the legislation. The Task Force report, released in conjunction with President Obama’s visit to Camden, New Jersey, included the provisions of the legislation among its essential recommendations to improve policing in the United States.


“New York should set a national example of how cities and states across the country should respond to the recommendations of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing,” said Jose Lopez, Lead Organizer at Make the Road New York and a member of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “The New York City Council has an opportunity to be at the forefront in our state and nation by passing the Right to Know Act, whose provisions were recommended in our report as crucial to improving policing, transparency and accountability. When community stakeholders, police officials and law enforcement experts agree, elected officials should put politics aside and act swiftly to pass these sensible reforms.”


“Reforming the way that police interact with communities is critical in New York City, as it is throughout the country, and I am very happy to see that our Right to Know Act proposals were included in President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommendations,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “All New Yorkers, like all people in the United States, have the right to know who is stopping them and why they are being stopped. Council Member Torres and I will continue to work to ensure that these proposals are implemented here in New York, in order to improve the on-the-ground relationship between police and communities.”


“I am pleased that the President's Task Force included obtaining consent before conducting a search and requiring identification as recommendations ‎to police departments nationwide,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres. “These common-sense policy changes will improve police and community relations, and restore public trust in law enforcement.” 


  • The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policy made the following recommendation in the Policy and Oversight section of its final report, which matches The Right to Know Act’s Introduction 541:

    “2.10 RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement officers should be required to seek consent before a search and explain that a person has the right to refuse consent when there is no warrant or probable cause. Furthermore, officers should ideally obtain written acknowledgement that they have sought consent to a search in these circumstances.”


  • The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policy made the following recommendation in the Policy and Oversight section of its final report, which matches The Right to Know Act’s Introduction 182:

    “2.11 RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement agencies should adopt policies requiring officers to identify themselves by their full name, rank, and command (as applicable) and provide that information in writing to individuals they have stopped. In addition, policies should require officers to state the reason for the stop and the reason for the search if one is conducted.”


The Right to Know Act, introduced in the New York City Council in November 2014 by Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Ritchie Torres, consists of two pieces of legislation to increase transparency and protect civilians’ rights during the most common interactions between civilians and police officers. The first bill would require police officers to identify themselves and explain their reason for subjecting a civilian to law enforcement activity, and the second bill would uphold a civilian’s Constitutional right to refuse a search when no legal basis exists for it except their consent by requiring officers to convey that right and receive their consent. The bills are modeled on similar requirements already working in other states and will help officers and residents by addressing the communications and transparency gap in basic interactions that too often unnecessarily escalate because of a lack of information and respect for the fundamental rights of New Yorkers.


All too often, New Yorkers have no idea why they’re being questioned or stopped by an officer, or even the identity of the officer subjecting them to law enforcement activity. Civilians can find themselves subjected to police brutality or disrespectful behavior simply for asking officers to identify themselves, even though the NYPD Patrol Guide requires officers to provide their name, rank, shield number and command when asked. Research suggests that in the absence of anonymity, officers are less likely to engage in abusive and discourteous behavior.


It is equally problematic that many New Yorkers continue to be unlawfully searched by NYPD officers, a troubling trend recently substantiated in a report by last week’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. Most New Yorkers are unaware that they have the right to refuse a search when an officer does not have legal justification for the search (a warrant, probable cause or when a person is under arrest), or they are uncomfortable exercising those rights because of the power imbalance that exists between civilians and a police officer with a gun. New Yorkers’ experiences also demonstrate that officers routinely conduct searches without legal justification, either by assuming consent, deceiving New Yorkers into consent by ordering that they empty their pockets, or simply searching belongings without explanation.


“All New Yorkers deserve to feel that their public safety and civil rights are protected,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), Deputy Leader and co-chair of the Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence. “That was the mission of the Community Safety Act which I co-sponsored and that passed in 2013, and is the mission of the Right to Know Act, led by Council Members Torres and Reynoso. It is also the mission of President Obama's Task Force on policing, comprised of law enforcement experts, police commissioners, and other community advocates. These bills do not change the framework cops need to engage in good policing, and does not change the existing legal requirements of probable cause for a search and reasonable suspicion for a stop. They are simply meant to continue the Council’s discussion about how the NYPD can engage in better and equitable police practices in all communities across the city. We all deserve that.”


“I'm very pleased that President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing includes the two key provisions of the New York City Council's Right to Know Act: for police officers to identify themselves and explain their interactions, and to let New Yorkers know their already-existing consent rights when they conduct a search,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “By adopting these laws here, New York City can help lead the way toward stronger police accountability and improved police/community relations.”   


“The Right To Know Act will increase transparency and justice in our city for union members, for working people and for their communities,” said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. “It is time for New York City to take the lead in the fight for fairness, safety and respect.”


“Before we can even begin to discuss bettering police community relations NYPD officers must begin to be respectful, accountable and transparent in their everyday interactions with us,” said Loyda Colon, Co-Director of the Justice Committee. “Sadly, this is far from what Justice Committee members and constituents regularly experience. The City Council can make New York a national leader and help us take an important step forward by passing the Right to Know Act.”

“With the existence of a militarized police force comes an even greater need for the passage of the Right to Know Act,” said Djibril Toure of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. “Now is the time to say yes to protecting the lives and human rights of New Yorkers.”


“A healthy relationship between police and the communities they serve is predicated on honesty and transparency,” said Kirsten John Foy, Northeast Region Director of National Action Network. “The right to know act is a critical component to the establishment of a true police accountability regime. Citizens will have a renewed confidence in their police department when basic fundamental rights are fully realized. The right to know act doesn't endow private citizens with greater rights than we currently enjoy, it merely requires police officers to articulate who they are, why they are stopping an individual or individuals and that as private citizens we reserve the right to either give or withhold consent for a search that has no legal basis.”


“People across the nation are asking if black lives matter. The Right to Know Act is the chance for New York to answer with a resounding yes,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “By passing these commonsense bills, New York City can take an immediate step to change street level encounters between police and communities of color, and become a national leader in the movement to change the culture of policing.”


“AVP stands with other CPR member organizations calling for the New York City Council to champion and pass the Right To Know Act,” said Shelby Chestnut, Co-Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “This important piece of legislation would make police and community relations stronger and more effective, especially for LGBTQ and HIV-affected people who are disproportionately impacted by police misconduct as it relates to their gender identity and sexual orientation.”


“We are at a crossroads when it comes to policing in the US,” said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. “New York City has the influence and opportunity to lead the nation on police reform. We join President Obama on calling on the New York City Council to pass the Right to Know Act, a common sense package of legislation that ensure accountable and transparent policing. The Right to Know Act is a step towards rebuilding trust between communities and law enforcement.”


“All New Yorkers should have the right to know the name of the officer who is conducting an unconstitutional search,” said Dante Barry, executive director of Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. “If safety must be the point, we must ensure that all New Yorkers feel safe when interacting with NYPD officers.”


“LGBTQ youth of color are consistently targeted by discriminatory policing practices: stopped for reasons that are unclear, searched without legal basis to do so,” said Verónica Bayetti Flores, Policy Coordinator of Streetwise And Safe. “LGBTQ New Yorkers deserve the right to know.”


“Legal Aid Society supports the Right to Know Act because it will improve every day interactions between police and the communities they serve,” said Justine Luongo, Legal Aid Society Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice. “People knowing their rights and knowing the names of the police they are interacting with is an essential step to improving community-police relations in this City.”



About Communities United for Police Reform: Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment. CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.

Topics: Right to Know Act