NEW YORK - Some of the NYPD's surveillance tools might appear to be out of a sci-fi movie, like the Stingray device that simulates a cell phone tower in order to intercept phone data, and X-ray vans that can see into your car.
And much of it is kept secret from the public.
“What we had currently in law was nothing,” said Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx. “We have nothing right now that mandates that the NYPD reports to the public on what types of technology they're using on our city."
That’s about to change, with the City Council now expected to pass the Police Oversight of Surveillance Technology, or POST Act. It will require NYPD officials to disclose what high-tech gadgets they use, how they use them and what privacy safeguards are in place.
On Wednesday morning, Mayor de Blasio said for the first time he will support the POST Act.
"I am convinced that the wording of the act is appropriate, is balanced," de Blasio said. "So I am comfortable supporting it."
His position puts him at odds with his own police department.
The NYPD opposes the measure, saying in a statement: "To be clear, the bill, as currently proposed would literally require the NYPD to advertise on its website the covert means and equipment used by undercover officers who risk their lives every day. No reasonable citizen of New York City would ever support that."
The Council will vote on the POST Act Thursday, along with a bill making it a misdemeanor for police to use a chokehold. Unlike a just-passed state law, it also encompasses other tactics used to restrict breathing, as in the case of George Floyd.
“It’s not just about the chokehold. It’s about any maneuver used now that would cut off the circulation of human beings,” said Councilman Donovan Richards of Queens, chairman of the Council’s public safety committee. “These are not animals. George Floyd wasn’t an animal.”
Another bill would allow New Yorkers to file a legal claim when officers refuse to show their badge numbers, as allegedly happened at recent protests.
“The actual shield number, the badge number, has to be seen at all times by protesters if you’re in uniform,” said Councilwoman Alicka Asprey-Samuel of Brooklyn, sponsor of the bill.
Other bills in the legislative package would mandate the NYPD create an early intervention system to identify and track problem officers, create a set of consistent standards for police discipline, and protect the legal right to record police activity.
The protests of the past few weeks have fueled momentum for the bills, some of which have been around for years without ever advancing to a vote.
All six bills are expected to pass the full Council on Thursday.