Syracuse Common Council Adopts ‘Right To Know’ Law Aimed At Police Accountability

Syracuse, N.Y. — The Common Council adopted ‘Right to Know’ legislation Tuesday, establishing stricter rules for how police interact with the public and requiring the department to report age, gender and race statistics on the people stopped and searched by officers.

Advocates have spent nearly two years pushing Mayor Ben Walsh’s administration to adopt the law, which had been stuck in legal limbo after a review by Walsh’s top attorney in 2019.

The law attracted newfound attention this summer, however, as police accountability groups spent weeks protesting in the streets and issued a set of nine detailed demands for reform. Adopting “Right to Know” was one of the demands presented to City Hall by the People’s Agenda for Police Reform.

The law is based on New York City’s Right to Know legislation, passed in 2018 in response to the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy. It requires the department to establish detailed rules for officers who want to search a person or property. Those rules include informing the person of their rights before seeking their consent to a search.

The law requires an officer to give his or her name, rank and command at the onset of any questioning or any traffic stop. The officer must also give a reason for the stop.

At the end of an interaction, if there’s no arrest, the officer will leave a business card with the citizen. In addition to the officer’s information, the card will include the phone numbers for the Citizen Review Board and the department’s internal affairs office.

The law also requires officers ask for and receive recorded consent before searching a person or property without a warrant. The officer must explain to the person that there will be no search if the person refuses.

Finally, the department must put quarterly reports on its website with information about the number of consensual searches, the number of refusals and the race, gender and age of the person who was searched or was asked to be searched.

Walsh signed an executive order in June promising to enact the Right to Know policies. The council, however, wanted to codify it with a law so it would outlive any individual mayor. The city’s corporation counsel, Kristen Smith, questioned whether that was legal.

The law requires an officer to give his or her name, rank and command at the onset of any questioning or any traffic stop. The officer must also give a reason for the stop.

At the end of an interaction, if there’s no arrest, the officer will leave a business card with the citizen. In addition to the officer’s information, the card will include the phone numbers for the Citizen Review Board and the department’s internal affairs office.

The law also requires officers ask for and receive recorded consent before searching a person or property without a warrant. The officer must explain to the person that there will be no search if the person refuses.

Finally, the department must put quarterly reports on its website with information about the number of consensual searches, the number of refusals and the race, gender and age of the person who was searched or was asked to be searched.

Walsh signed an executive order in June promising to enact the Right to Know policies. The council, however, wanted to codify it with a law so it would outlive any individual mayor. The city’s corporation counsel, Kristen Smith, questioned whether that was legal.

The Right to Know law takes effect Dec. 14, 2020.

Joe Carni, the council’s lone Republican, was the only councilor who voted against the legislation. Carni said he supported elements of the law, like officers handing out business cards. But he said making officers document basic inquiries with people would add paperwork and bureaucracy to the job.

From www.syracuse.com