It’s going to take a lot more than business cards to repair the severe fractures between the police department and some of the communities it serves.
So, the agreement between City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton does little to alleviate fears or calm tensions, never mind significantly change policing. The deal calls for NYPD officers to ask clearly for voluntary consent before searching someone’s possessions or home. After a search, at checkpoints, and upon request, officers must provide business cards to identify themselves.
The deal avoided a council vote on the Right to Know Act, which included similar provisions but, critics say, was tougher and would have provided more accountability and enforcement. But a Mark-Viverito spokesman said there’s little difference between the agreement and the legislation, and that existing oversight remains a priority.
That may not be enough.
Mark-Viverito’s decision to go the administrative route was likely partly political. De Blasio opposed the bills, and it’s unclear whether they would’ve passed, especially over a potential veto. The spokesman said Mark-Viverito wanted to ensure NYPD buy-in, too.
Now, it’ll be up to the department to show it will abide by and enforce the new policies in the deal. Incoming Police Commissioner James O’Neill needs to show all New Yorkers he’s serious about improving police-community relations by developing and publicizing clear goals and guidelines, regularly providing information about stops and searches, and spelling out how the department will be held accountable.
But as last week’s protests in Milwaukee over the shooting of an armed black man by a black police officer show, the problems with policing can’t be mended by a business card or a polite request to search. It’s now up to the NYPD to ensure officers and community members understand the department’s principles, policies, and protocol, so that small changes can take hold and bigger changes can become possible.