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New York City Council approves curbs on police power

By Francesca Trianni

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York City Council defied Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the issue of police power on Thursday, overturning his veto on a measure to curb the stop-and-frisk policy that he argues is necessary to fight crime.

The council passed another measure, also opposed by the mayor, that would create a watchdog to monitor the New York Police Department.

The two bills are aimed at restricting police use of the stop-and-frisk policy in which officers in high-crime areas stop people on the basis of reasonable suspicion that they could be engaged in criminal activity.

The policy, strongly defended by Bloomberg, has come under increasing criticism, particularly from a federal judge who ruled it unconstitutional earlier this month.

Bloomberg released a strongly worded statement about the council, saying the votes were "an example of election year politics at its very worst and political pandering at its most deadly."

"Both bills outsource management of the NYPD to unaccountable officials, making it harder for the next mayor and police commissioner to make the decisions they believe necessary to keep our city safe," he said.

The council's inspector general bill creates an independent monitor over the police department for a seven-year period that would make recommendations on how the department could be improved. It passed by a vote of 39 to 10.

The stop-and-frisk measure expands the definition of racial profiling and allows people who believe they have been profiled to sue police in state court. It passed by a vote of 34-15.

"It's an historic day," said Council member Jumaane Williams, the lead sponsor of the bill. "We have a lot more work left to do. But I'm very happy that the council did its job, moving in the right direction when others wouldn't."

The city has taken the first steps toward an appeal of the ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who called stop-and-frisk "indirect racial profiling" that targeted racially defined groups, resulting in the disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of blacks and Hispanics.

Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have argued that police make the most stops in minority neighborhoods because that is where crime rates are highest.

The council's inspector general bill takes effect on January 1, 2014, when the city will have a new mayor. The racial profiling bill takes effect in 90 days.

In June, the 51-member council passed the two laws with just enough support to override a veto.

Bloomberg vetoed the bills in July, challenging the council to override him with a two-thirds majority vote.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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