By Rich Bockmann
Queens last week was once again in the forefront on the debate over stop-and-frisk, but this time the heated words were not ringing out from the streets of Jamaica or Jackson Heights, but from City Hall.
The City Council’s nine-member Public Safety Committee, which counts four borough legislators among its ranks, held the first of three public hearings on four bills aimed at reforming the NYPD’s controversial practice.
The bills are sponsored by eight borough members, including three from southeast Queens, where the 103rd Precinct ranked eighth in the city for the number of stops last year, and three from western Queens, where the 115th ranked third.
The bills are opposed, however, by committee Chairman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who at one point during the six-hour hearing Oct. 10 was accused of not being able to empathize with the targets of stop-and-frisk, who are predominantly black and Hispanic.
“If his father were an 88-year-old man who’s being pulled over and being called a ‘boy’ and fitting a description, then it would be different,” said Councilwoman Helen Foster (D-Bronx), who is black.
Vallone is white, as is Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) attended the meeting and he said he believes the city’s leaders would view the controversial practice differently if they were minorities.
“There is a lack of understanding by folk that don’t have the same issues or know how pervasive the problem really is,” he said.
The four bills, known collectively as the Community Safety Act, were designed to reform the Police Department practice that a New York Civil Liberties Union report earlier this year showed has expanded dramatically under the Bloomberg administration and resulted in a disproportionate number of innocent young black and Hispanic men being stopped.
The first would require an officer to obtain consent before performing a search, and another would require officers to identify themselves and give a reason for a stop. Another would give the courts more teeth to enforce the city’s existing bias-based profiling law, and the last would create an inspector general to oversee the NYPD.
Though neither the mayor nor the commissioner attended the meeting, Bloomberg’s attorney testified that all four bills were outside the Council’s authority to manage the Police Department.
Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) said the bills were not perfect, but a good start.
“I think these bills have started a dialogue and a conversation,” he said. Something needs to happen.”
City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) said he believed Bloomberg and Kelly had painted themselves into a corner by defending stop-and-frisk for so long, and that it was unlikely they would cooperate in reforming it.
“The beauty is they are but two. On the City Council, there are 51 in total,” he said.
After the hearing, the bills appear to have picked up another sponsor.
Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), the ranking Republican on the committee, decided he would sponsor the bills after the hearing concluded.
A Halloran spokesman said the councilman was not a “blind supporter” of the bills, but did favor parts of them, in particular the inspector general.
“He wants to have some influence and input before it comes up before a vote,” the spokesman said.
Comrie will host a public hearing on stop-and-frisk Oct. 24 at York College from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.