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Gennaro blasts safety act at crime camera unveiling

Photo courtesy James Gennaro
By Joe Anuta

City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) hailed new NYPD cameras in Briarwood last week, but warned a bill passed by the Council could put the freshly installed crime-fighting tools in jeopardy.

The lawmaker doled out $600,000 for 17 of the electronic eyes that will be added across his district, including at two busy locations in Briarwood.

“I am proud to have been a strong supporter of the use of these cameras, which are an essential part of the NYPD’s crime-fighting and counterterrorism efforts,” he said in a statement.

At the unveiling ceremony, Gennaro referred to his vote against a bill that would open up the city’s Police Department to lawsuits on the basis of profiling.

“My support for these security cameras was an important reason why I cast a vote against the passage of Intro 1080, which could allow New York City residents to sue the NYPD for using this valuable technology to keep our streets safe.”

Intro 1080 is one of two controversial bills known as the Community Safety Act, passed by a veto-proof majority in late June.

The legislation states residents who think they are being racially profiled by an NYPD policing tactic could cite the new law in either a complaint with the city Commission on Human Rights or in a civil court suit, according to the legislation, which was created in part to respond to the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactic.

Anyone who sues would not be entitled to a cash settlement, but could seek an injunction to stop the practice in question, the legislation states.

But Gennaro, who also voted against the other bill that would install an inspector general to vet broad NYPD policies, said Intro 1080 would allow people to claim the cameras were unfairly targeting certain segments of the population and have them removed by legal edict.

“I urge my Council colleagues to consider the effect this legislation would have on the tremendous gains we’ve made in terms of public safety,” Gennaro said.

But the New York City Civil Liberties Union, which had been pushing for the bill’s passage, said the legislation was written with wide deference to police department activities and gives them ample legal ground to defend crime-fighting tools.

“I think it’s very disappointing that argument has gained some traction, because it is so clearly misinformed,” said Johanna Miller, interim advocacy director at the nonprofit.

According to the bill, the NYPD would simply need to prove in any legal action that its techniques are used for a legitimate government interest.

“It is a very low standard they have to meet, and we have no doubts whatever that this is not going to cause widespread abandonment of surveillance cameras or stop-and-frisk,” she said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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