Right to Know Is Now the Law. Here’s What That Means In New York

Related imageThe New York Police Department ordered 10 million business cards that officers must hand out to people they stop on the street. The cards will include the officers’ names and ranks, and are required under the new Right to Know Act.Police officers in New York City must provide more information to members of the public they interact with, and get consent for many searches.

The Right to Know Act was passed by the City Council in 2017 in response to the Police Department’s aggressive use of stop-and-frisk tactics. A federal judge had ruled in 2013 that the practice was unconstitutional and unfairly discriminated against blacks and Latinos.

Say an officer has a hunch that a man on the street has a concealed weapon, such as a knife or gun. The officer can ask who he is and where he is going, without having to provide any reason for the questioning.

But if the officer asks if the man has a weapon, or conducts a frisk, he must have an objective reason to believe that the man has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime. For example, a radio call could have described a man wearing the same clothing.

To perform a search without a legal justification, police officers in the United States must gain consent that is voluntary, knowing and intelligent, and not coerced.

But there is no consensus about what officers should say. City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, the lead sponsor of the consent component of the Right to Know law, said that ambiguity leads to confusion among civilians about their rights during police stops.

Police officers were already required to give business cards to people who requested them after a stop. Officers must now hand out the cards — which list the officer’s name, rank and command, and the reason for the encounter — whenever they stop or search people they suspect are involved in a criminal activity who are ultimately not arrested or given a summons.

The police do not have to offer the cards during traffic stops, which make up a large portion of their encounters with civilians.

The card rule applies to stops at roadblocks and checkpoints, except for security at special events or locations that might be targets of crime. So, officers conducting bag checks at a subway station entrance do not need to hand out cards to people they stop. But if the police stop subway passengers after they have entered the station and release them, officers must offer the cards.

Officers assigned to cases must also offer business cards to crime victims and witnesses they interview.

If the police do not ask for your consent to be searched, or if you are not sure the circumstances require officers to do so, you can say, “I do not consent to being searched.”

It might help to check records of the encounter. Reports on police stops can be requested online and must be provided within 10 days. They can also be picked up the same day at Police Headquarters.

Requests for body camera video can also be made online, and the police are required to acknowledge requests within five days and provide copies of the footage within 90 days.

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