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Syracuse Council passes Right to Know, lone Republican objects saying it goes too far

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
A protest for police reform outside Syracuse City Hall in July.

The Syracuse Common Council has finally passed Right to Know legislation, after months of discussions. The law is meant to create more transparency in the police department and inform people of their right to privacy during a search. Only one councilor, the council’s only Republican, voted against it.

Police officers will have to identify themselves by name and rank and provide a reason for stopping someone. They must offer a business card, with their identification and contact information for the department’s internal affairs unit and the independent Citizen Review Board agency, which investigates complaints.  

The police chief is also tasked with developing a policy for conducting a search, only after obtaining consent. That consent has to be recorded or documented in writing.

But Councilor Joe Carni, who voted against the law, said the language in it goes above and beyond what’s required constitutionally.

“They find a lot of guns in these searches, illegal guns, that prevent gun violence,” Carni said. “In my district, that’s really a big issue right now. It’s probably more so an issue than ever before.”

Carni said he doesn’t think the law will develop better relations between the community and police, including documenting informal interactions.  

“I wouldn’t blame folks of not being trusting,” Carni said. “Why do you need my name, my age, my address, if you’re having a conversation with me about what we’re doing standing on our street?”

He’s also concerned about call times. He said officers aren’t getting to different calls as quickly as they should.

“That’s just going to further delay police response times and we can’t have that because right now, it’s not acceptable how long it takes,” Carni said.

The council made at least a couple of changes to the law, compared to an earlier version, pushing back the start dates. Beginning next year, the police department will post on its website, the number of times officers did and did not get consent to searches, separated by the race, gender and age of the people searched. The department will also post data on the number of investigative encounters conducted, including stop and frisk. The new law won’t go into effect until mid-December.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.