NEW YORK – The City Council voted Thursday to create an outside watchdog for the nation's biggest police department and make it easier for people to file profiling claims against it, overriding Mayor Michael Bloomberg's vetoes and prompting him to say the city's safety is being jeopardized.
Bloomberg said the new oversight at the New York Police Department will make it "harder for our police officers to protect New Yorkers and continue to drive down crime."
"Make no mistake: The communities that will feel the most negative impacts of these bills will be minority communities across our city, which have been the greatest beneficiaries of New York City's historic crime reductions," he said in a statement.
Proponents see the legislation as a check on a police force that's come under scrutiny for its heavy use of a tactic known as stop and frisk and its extensive surveillance of Muslims, which was revealed in stories by The Associated Press.
Cheers and applause burst out in the packed spectators' gallery when the council's vote was announced. Later, supporters exchanged hugs outside City Hall.
A federal judge recently ruled the NYPD discriminated against minorities with its stop and frisk program and ordered a monitor to oversee changes.
The measures mark the most aggressive legislative effort in years to put new checks on the NYPD. And the vote comes less than two weeks after U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin's order for a monitor to focus on stop and frisk, a practice she said the department had used in a way that violated the rights of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men. The city is appealing.
The lawsuit-related component of the legislation passed in June with just the 34 votes needed to override a veto. At a rally before the council's meeting, activists chanted "34" and held signs that said, "Override."
"What happens in New York city has consequences for the nation," National Association for the Advancement of Colored People head Benjamin Jealous said, suggesting that police elsewhere look to the NYPD as an example.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said earlier Thursday there were enough votes expected, though she opposed the lawsuit component. She supported the inspector general.
Civil rights groups and minority advocates had pushed for the legislation. It's been propelled by complaints about stop and frisk and the department's extensive surveillance of Muslims.
The laws will bring "oversight, transparency, accountability and, yes, efficiency, to the NYPD," said Fahd Ahmed, the legal director of Desis Rising Up and Moving, a South Asian advocacy group with mostly poor, Muslim members.
Supporters say the new laws, coupled with the judge's ruling, will end practices they see as unfair and would mold a more trusted, effective police force.
Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly say that between the council measures and the court ruling, a police force that has fought crime down to record lows will be tangled up in second-guessing and lawsuits.
"We think both pieces of legislation are unwise and will undermine public safety," Kelly said Wednesday.