New York City Council Seeks to Restrict ‘Unfair’ Police Procedure
By Camille Padilla-Dalmau
For many years, countless New Yorkers have complained that the nuisance abatement law (NAL) violates their civil rights. The initiative gives the police the authority to shut down businesses or expel individuals from their homes without their consent if they have been accused of criminal activity, even if they are found innocent later.
In order to change this police procedure, which has been deemed unfair and unconsti- tutional, the City Council in- troduced a package of legislation that aims to halt its application, a move that would mainly benefit New Yorkers belonging to minority groups. An investigation conducted by the ProPublica organization demonstrated that 9 out of every 10 NAL cases processed by the NYPD affected people of color. “This package of legislation will reform these laws to eliminate the most draconian penalties, and limit its application to ensure that innocent people do not lose their homes or businesses, all while still permitting the swift shuttering of illegal houses of prostitution, bode- gas that sell K2, and other ac- tual nuisances where appropriate,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as she announced the introduction of the 13 new pieces of legislation on Wednesday.
NAL was created in 1977 to combat rampant prostitution in Times Square and to swiftly close establishments considered a “nuisance.” However, in recent years, of- ficers have focused on applying the law at private residencies where drugs are sold or businesses where alcohol is sold to minors. David Díaz is one of the people who have publicly denounced the use of this police practice. In 2013, the NYPD raided his home and detained a number of adults, of whom only one was charged with drug possession. Six months later, the Puerto Rican father received an eviction notice in accordance to the nuisance abatement law. The police were going to close his apartment, but they felt sorry for him when they saw his daughter, who was 9 months old at the time, and allowed him to stay.
Still, as Díaz told El Diario, two days later the NYPD lawyer convinced him in court to sign a contract that allowed him to stay in his house but forbade his broth- ers from living with him and also gave the police permission to enter whenever they wished without a court order. “At that time, I thought the man was my lawyer,” said Díaz, adding that he believed the attorney when he told Díaz that he would lose his apartment if he failed to sign the papers.
“I feel sad that the city has done this to me and split my family for no reason,” said Díaz, who currently has one brother living with a cousin and the other one homeless. The NYPD said that they have yet to evaluate the pro- posal but that they are in talks with the Council. “We wel- come the oversight and re- view of the issue. It’s an important tool to keep communities safe. Removing criminals from residential and commercial establish- ments is something we’ve been doing for over 20 years. We will work with the council, and if they feel there are changes they want made in the program, we will work with them to do that,” said Lawrence Byrne, deputy commissioner of Legal Matters for the NYPD.
Two provisions in the new law would prevent situations such as Díaz’s from happen- ing. First, the possibility that the NYPD may close a resi- dence or commercial estab- lishment without a court order would be eliminated. Second, it establishes that selling drugs, not possessing them, is cause for eviction. Additionally, the law will re- quire four instances of drug sales instead of three to be considered a nuisance.
Díaz is one of the main plain- tiffs in a class action against the city and the NYPD. His lawyer, Robert Everett John- son, from the Institute for Justice, said that the legisla- tion package is a good first step to preventing situations such as his client’s from hap- pening again in the future. “These reforms will provide some help, but they will not do anything for the people who have already been vic- tims of this law. That’s why we will go ahead with our lawsuit, regardless of whether they pass the law or not,” said Johnson.
Voices of NY