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Advocates, Pols Demand Cops Follow Right to Know Act

Law requires NYPD officers to ID themselves and explain right to refuse a search

Victoria Davis holds a blank business card she received from an NYPD officer who told her to fill it out herself in violation of the Right to Know Act, which requires cops to provide civilians with proper identification during interactions.
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Advocates and elected officials who say police officers are disobeying and at times even mocking a police accountability measure implemented last year rallied at City Hall April 29 to demand action minutes before lawmakers grilled NYPD officials about that law during an oversight hearing.

Out gay Brooklyn Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and Brooklyn/ Queens Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who are members of the Committee on Public Safety and co-sponsored the Right to Know Act, joined advocates representing Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), Make the Road New York, Legal Aid, Youth Represent, Justice Committee, Girls for Gender Equity, and others to highlight irregularities in the NYPD’s rollout of the law that went into effect last October.

The law requires officers to identify themselves during interactions, provide reasons for stops, hand out their business cards, and inform folks of their right to deny searches, but advocates say that’s far from what cops actually doing — and that people of color and gender nonconforming individuals are receiving the brunt of that poor policing.

One of the issues, advocates said, is that the department’s official patrol guide for officers has not been adequately updated since the new changes were rolled out. A review of the guide as it currently stands reflects some information in accordance with the new law about carrying business cards: Cops must carry a printed business card, and when those run out they must write the information on a blank card when asked for one. During the oversight hearing, police officials testified that blank cards are in fact distributed when regular cards run out and that there have been at least 1,800 requests by officers for additional cards. Printed cards are replenished within a week, the officials said.

Yet, according to Victoria Davis, whose brother, Delrawn Small, was killed by an off-duty NYPD cop in a 2016 road rage incident, cops are not following proper protocol when distributing business cards. She recalled a recent incident when she witnessed an elderly woman bleeding from her head. Davis was concerned with the police response to the situation and asked an officer to provide her with his business card.

“He gave me this blank card, laughed, and told me to fill it out myself,” said Davis, who brought that blank card and held it up as she spoke. “Not only was it disrespectful, it was illegal.”

That kind of apparent disregard for the law was blasted by Make the Road New York’s Darian Agostini, who said communities are not safe from abusive policing as long as cops aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do.

“The Right to Know Act is necessary to ensure the NYPD is transparent and accountable,” Agostini said. “But the Right to Know Act doesn’t work if the city doesn’t enforce it.”

Advocates at the rally also raised concerns about police officers failing to make proper accommodations for those who speak different languages and conducting illegal DNA collections.

Reynoso and Menchaca, who left after the rally to attend the hearing, offered stern warnings to any police officers who decide not to follow a law in effect since last year.

“The Right to Know Act isn’t a suggestion,” Reynoso said. “It’s a mandate.”

Menchaca echoed Reynoso’s sentiments, stating that the lawmakers and advocates had gathered at City Hall “to push a very clear message about how democracy works.”

Reynoso, Menchaca, and their colleagues on the Public Safety Committee used the oversight hearing to raise other issues in the wake of the new law, including racial disparities in police stops, but NYPD officials repeatedly responded that there is not yet enough data and it is too early to draw conclusions from just one full quarter.

Updated 11:28 am, April 30, 2019
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