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What you should know about New York City's Right to Know Act

It's been a year since the Right to Know Act took effect in New York City. It was passed by the city council largely to deal with the New York Police Department's controversial "stop-and-frisk" practice. Many people asserted that Latinos and African Americans were subjected to these searches by NYPD officers more than others.

Although the practice was ruled discriminatory and unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2013, the Right to Know Act provides detailed requirements for police officers and outlines the rights of the public regarding searches where a criminal act or warrant isn't involved.

A police officer may ask someone who they are or where they're headed without giving them a reason. However, unless they have an objective reason to think that the person committed a crime (or is about to), they need their consent before they pat them down or search their belongings. An objective reason would be something like fitting the description of a suspect police are searching for. If the officer can see evidence of a crime or has a warrant, consent is not needed under the law.

When an officer is required to get a person's consent to a search:

  • That consent cannot be coerced
  • The person must be able to understand what they're consenting to
  • The person must be told that they can refuse a search
  • Officers must have their body cameras on for the consent or refusal and for the search

If you don't consent to a search, you need to state that clearly and calmly. If you've given consent but change your mind during the search, you can withdraw your consent. You can also ask if you're free to go.

Under the law, officers are required to give people a business card that includes their name, shield number, rank, command and other information, such as how to get the body camera footage of the stop. If they don't have a card, officers are still required to give civilians the information.

Whether you were ultimately arrested or not, if you believe that one or more officers violated the Right to Know Act, you can contact the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board to file a complaint. If you've been charged with a crime, let your attorney know about your concerns. If you weren't charged, but believe your rights were violated, you still may choose to contact an attorney for guidance.

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