Law enforcement officers are pretty used to being able to stop nearly anyone and demand to know who they are and what they’re doing. Sure, there are plenty of laws that say they can’t actually do that, but the public is generally underinformed about their rights, and this works in cops’ favor. As a recent Appeals Court decision pointed out, citizens are “free to refuse to cooperate with police before a seizure.”
Obviously, this perfectly legal act of noncompliance just won’t do, and it certainly won’t be cops pointing out to citizens the rights they have available to them. New York City legislators thought they could force this transparency on the NYPD.
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.
It may have “broad support,” but it didn’t have support where it counts. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton expressed his displeasure with the idea of his officers having to respect the rights of citizens.
Mr. Bratton has denounced the Right to Know Act as an “unprecedented” intrusion into his domain.