Family members of New Yorkers killed by NYPD officers sent letters Tuesday to the City Council and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito expressing opposition to an “attempt to block" proposed legislative changes to the department known as the Right to Know Act.
The act is a legislative package of bills aiming to prevent discriminatory and abusive policing and to improve NYPD community relations.
The letter was signed by the family of Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Kimani Gray and Ramarley Graham, among others. “Your deal allowing the NYPD to avoid the accountability and enforcement of the Right to Know Act is a dangerous mistake,” the letter reads.
Last month, Mark-Viverito announced the council will not vote on the bills — despite broad support from members — and that the NYPD will handle changes internally.
"Whether it is passing the most expansive criminal justice reform package in New York City history, setting up a city-wide bail fund for low-level offenses, establishing a commission to explore the closure of Rikers Island, creating a department of transition services or ensuring female inmates have access to hygiene products, the Speaker Mark-Viverito has been proud to lead on criminal justice reform," Mark-Viverito spokesperson, Eric Koch, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "No legislative body has been as active as the New York City Council has been and with a year and a half left in this session we expect to continue our work making New York City a more fair and just place."
In turn, the NYPD said it will update its patrol guide to instruct officers to get verbal consent before they search someone in cases where there is no warrant or probable cause, according to the New York Daily News. The search will only be legal if the person agrees.
The NYPD said officers will also begin identifying themselves with business cards after searches.
Mark-Viverito defended the NYPD reforms saying the changes will be put into effect quickly and that the legislation would likely be delayed in a court challenge.
"No scuttling happened," she told reporters in July. "I believe that this is the right approach. I believe we are getting reforms done."
She said she is not “closing the door to legislation,” adding that the city council can revisit the bills if they believe NYPD officers are not following the changes.
But the families of people killed by NYPD said in the letter that the deal falls short when compared to the Right to Know Act.
The letter sent to Mark-Viverito, signed by 19 people, called the speaker’s decision to not take a vote “a slap in the face to our efforts, New Yorkers, and people across the country demanding true police accountability.”
“In so many of the killings of our family members, NYPD’s internal rules – as laid out in its Patrol Guide and training – were violated as part of those fatal encounters,” the letter reads. “That officers failed to maintain compliance with the NYPD Patrol Guide in connection with these unjust killings and were not held accountable is a testament to the reality that accountability with the NYPD is systematically broken.”
The letter urges Mark-Viveto to move the legislation forward, calling the NYPD reforms “a backroom deal to avoid police accountability.”
A letter was also sent to city council members, urging them to use their legislative authority to pass the bills.
It was reported last year that the majority of city council members support the Right to Know Act, but last week, Mark-Viveto said it would not be “responsible” to allow a bill to pass because most legislators support it.
“That’s not the way it works,” she said, according to the Daily News. “Not every single bill that has 35, 40 sponsors automatically becomes a law….That is not a responsible way of legislating or governing.”