Some people believe in legislative solutions. Got a problem? Pass a law. That will fix it, because, you know, law. And when mean people like me make fun of their naiveté, they get very angry because they believe that if there is a law, people will obey. The irony is that these are often people who think poorly of compliance with authority, yet resort to exactly the same method of achieving their goal as they reject otherwise.
Enter the New York City Council, the mothership of progressive fixes. A law was proposed, and lots of people liked it.
The bills, known as the Right to Know Act, require officers to identify and explain themselves when they stop people, and to make sure people know when they can refuse to be searched. These are timely, sensible ideas, echoing recommendations made by President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing. Though the Right to Know Act has been bottled up in the Council for two years, it has broad support among Council members and community organizations, and sponsors say it would pass easily if it ever came to a vote.
What’s not to like? Cops behaving well? Cops informing people why they’re being stopped, that they can exercise their constitutional right not to consent to a search? There is nothing bad here.
Naturally, the cops hate it. Of course, there is nothing to prevent New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton from telling his cops to do this anyway. But he didn’t. He won’t. It’s not as if he serves at the pleasure of New York’s most progressive mayor ever. But the big issue for Bratton isn’t that the ideas incorporated in the law are so dangerous and counterproductive, but cops just don’t like being told what they have to do.
Mr. Bratton has denounced the Right to Know Act as an “unprecedented” intrusion into his domain. But the Council has the right and duty to protect New Yorkers’ safety and dignity. Mr. Bratton may insist that his officers are the model of professionalism and restraint. But even he must acknowledge the problem of pervasive disrespect and excessive force in precincts where citizen complaints are rife, and the perpetual problem of brutish hotheads like Daniel Pantaleo, who led the fatal assault on Mr. Garner.
And indeed, Bratton did so in the Eric Garner case, where he conceded that Pantaleo used a prohibited choke hold. But that digression doesn’t address Bratton’s problem. He doesn’t want the City Council thinking they get to tell him how to run his police department. As long as he’s the commissioner, he makes the calls. On the other side, the City Council would enact laws to dictate how much soda homeless people in Moscow are allowed to drink, if they felt like it. There is no limit to the things they believe themselves entitled to control.
Aside from Bratton’s mastery of his own domain, is there anything to suggest that the proposed Right To Know laws shouldn’t be enacted? Well, sure. Where’s the “or else”? It’s not that the things the council wants the cops to do are bad, but as
Madison Jackson said to Marshall, now let him enforce it. It would be great if cops spoke the sweet words we would like to hear, but what happens if they don’t?
The New York Times is upset with the speaker of the New York City Council for not putting the Right to Know laws on the table. After all, they are “timely, sensible ideas” (thanks, guys, for paying attention and no longer using “common sense” in your editorials). What the Times doesn’t get, but the speaker does, is that these laws are merely aspirations. Much as they might be good for some laughs when cops get together to drink after their shift, they warm only the hearts of the most passionate progressive believers.
I bet somebody whispered this in the speaker’s ear.
But there has been no vote. The Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, essentially derailed it this month. She told members that she had quietly struck a compromise with the Police Department to adopt some, but not all, of the act’s reforms administratively. Under the deal, officers who want to search people but have no legal basis to stop them must ask permission and wait to hear “yes” or “no.” They have to explain that a person can refuse to be searched, and give a business card to people who are searched or stopped at a checkpoint or to anyone who asks.
In business, this is called the “buy in,” getting the people who execute the dream to agree to do it. But then, a “compromise” struck with top police brass is still a long way from a buy in from the rank and file of a medium-sized urban army. But what about the “or else”?
These rules will be added to the police patrol guide, as a matter of internal department policy, but will not become city law.
It sounds a bit underwhelming when you frame it that way, but that’s only if you don’t realize what Melissa Mark-Viverito knows. Laws enacted by the New York City Council do nothing to change how the police operate. To the extent the council’s ordinances matter, such as its law requiring people to use preferred gender titles and pronouns, it’s because they have the clout of the government on their side. When it comes to telling the cops what to do, there’s that
Madison Jackson quote again.
Is putting these requirements in the Patrol Guide a solution? Of course not, but it’s more of a solution than passing toothless laws. The Patrol Guide provides the basis for training and discipline, so there is a chance it could impact police culture. If cops decide not to scream curses at people and, instead, behave appropriately and inform people of their rights accurately, it would be a wonderful thing. Whether this “compromise” will accomplish this is unknown, but unlikely. It will, however, do more than another silly city council law.
You like laws. The New York Times likes laws. Laws are the progressive weapon of choice. So what if your laws are shooting blanks? So what if the bullets in the cops’ guns aren’t.