City law promises to make police courteous
In the Big Apple, the simple practice of swapping business cards is taking on a new meaning. As a direct result of the 2017 Right to Know Act, which took effect last month, New York Police Department officers are now armed with business cards that they are required to hand out to people they stop on the street. In addition, the law amended the city’s administrative code and called for the NYPD to develop specific guidance for its officers on obtaining consent to search individuals. But the new cards are the most tangible provision of the law that resulted from the department’s track record of aggressive and racially biased stop-and-frisk practices.
Increasing police accountability has the potential to ensure officers are fulfilling their mission to protect and serve by effectively engaging with their communities and safeguarding officers’ integrity when escalated situations arise.
While police officers were already required to give business cards to people who requested them, the new, more detailed cards are meant to be distributed whenever officers stop or search people they suspect are involved in criminal activity, even if the individual is not arrested or given a summons to appear in court. In addition to the officer’s name, rank and command, the cards will specify the reason for the interaction.
The law also details what officers must do before searching individuals, their belongings or their homes in cases where the person is not suspected of a specific crime or where there is probable cause to conduct a search. Police officers must now record a person giving or refusing consent—on body cameras if they wear them, and by written report if they don’t. They’re also required to provide interpretation if a person speaks limited English.
Greater accountability can create an environment where officers are allowed to fulfill the mission to protect and serve rather than patrol and punish. Transparency has the ability to open doors of communication within the community. Making a tangible move toward implementing community policing practices can aid in establishing relationships with neighbors and working with them to solve problems.
Generally, community policing is the practice of allocating police officers to particular areas so that they become familiar with the local residents. A benefit of this strategy is that it allows officers to work with local residents to prevent crime from happening instead of responding to incidents after they occur. Having police officers distribute business cards is a tangible way to implement community policing in the five boroughs.
Moreover, the newly implemented process of active identification, and the resulting transparency in community relations, can safeguard an officer’s procedural prowess and decrease liability for police precincts. By releasing contact information and employing the use of body cameras, officers working in the community can validate their mission to protect and serve. When the public sees that law enforcement has systems in place to enforce police accountability, it is more likely to see police as legitimate, and community members in turn are more likely to positively engage with local officers. As City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, sponsor of the new legislation, said, “Trust is perhaps the most critical component in the relationship between the police and the communities they are charged with protecting.”
In April, the NYPD informally introduced its public opinion monitor, also known as the “sentiment meter.” The department gathers information using surveys packaged as pop-up ads on hundreds of thousands of smartphones each month, and as telephone calls to cater to older residents. This review mechanism will be used to gauge the public’s approval of the new law’s business-card and body-camera provisions.
In an era when there have been many examples of law enforcement’s negative interactions with civilians, the New York City model may serve as a successful blueprint for jurisdictions across the country. The sentiment meter has already drawn the attention of police departments in Los Angeles, Grand Rapids and Chicago. Hopefully, in other metropolitan cities that have struggled with police-community relations in the past, the NYPD model can provide a first step toward improving communication and support for communities and officers alike.