After an emotionally charged session at City Hall last week, the City Council voted to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vetoes of two bills designed to rein in the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk.
It was not a perfect victory because a significant minority of Queens residents still support the aggressive policing tactic, but it was the right thing to do to protect the borough’s blacks and Hispanics from racial profiling.
The Council’s override vote delivered a brutal rebuke to Bloomberg, who has staked his reputation as a tough crime fighter on the power of the Police Department to round up lawbreakers. And the mayor certainly deserves credit for New York becoming one of the safest cities in the nation on his watch.
He vowed to go to court to keep the bills from taking effect, but the public pendulum has swung and a majority of city dwellers now oppose the stop-and-frisk tactics that have overwhelmingly targeted blacks and Hispanics in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights and in southeast Queens.
Council members voted 39-10 to create an inspector general to keep tabs on the NYPD, with the Queens delegation voting 8-4 in favor. But the second bill that would make it easier for New Yorkers to sue the department over profiling squeaked through with just the 34 votes required for an override as Queens voted 7-5 to back it.
Bloomberg had threatened to use his own money to try to sway critical votes on the Council to defeat the bias suit bill, but Councilman Mark Weprin held his ground despite being targeted by the mayor’s office. He voted to override both bills after the Bloomberg administration found a retired cop to run against him in the November election on the Reform Party line and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association distributed negative fliers in his district.
Despite the warnings from the mayor, the police commissioner and stop-and-frisk hardliners, crime should still be held in check with more respectful stops. The NYPD dramatically reduced the controversial practice last year and crime continued to drop in Queens along with the rest of the city.
In the meantime, the Council has listened to New Yorkers and voted to end a police tactic that has been excessively used against two racial groups in the borough with limited results.