Why NYC’s fight over How Many Stops bill may not end with Council override

NEW YORK — Mayor Adams has called it his “line in the sand.”

And on Tuesday, if all goes according to the plans of the New York City Council leadership, local lawmakers will breach his line. The next question: Will the mayor dig in?

Left-leaning Council lawmakers are poised to override the mayor’s veto of the so-called How Many Stops Act, which would require city cops to record basic information about each of their investigative stops.

The moderate mayor says the bill would waste officers’ time, burying cops in paperwork when they should be serving as barriers to crime. Supporters of the measure say it would buttress police accountability and help to address concerns that city police officers disproportionately target people of color.

The public advocate’s office has said reporting a stop under the bill would take no more than 30 seconds on a smartphone.

The mayor has suggested the bill would “handcuff” cops, and he has crusaded against its implementation at every turn. He brought Council members on a police ride-along over the weekend, seeking to press his case. His office even released a colorful cartoon showing a criminal carrying out crimes as files pile up around an overwhelmed police officer.

Adams appears to have come up short in changing enough legislators’ minds to prevent the override, a step that represents a rarely used rebuke and reflects an emboldened Council that may be mindful of Adams’ sagging approval ratings.

But analysts said Monday that they do not expect Adams to quit the fight, and said he would likely continue to harp on the topic at times.

“He wants to make it clear that this is not his thing,” said Chris Coffey, a Democratic strategist, adding that Adams and the Council each seem to think their case is a political winner. The mayor may consider simply refusing to implement the policy, Coffey said.

At the same time, analysts expressed doubt that the Democratic mayor would make the bill a political battering ram the way he wielded bail reform laws as he pushed state officials to revise them in the first two years of his tenure.

During the bail fights, some crime rates climbed in the city, and Adams, newly installed at City Hall after running on a public safety platform, was seeking to turn the tide. Now, most crime rates are falling in the city, mirroring national trends, and the mayor has sought to take credit for the shift.

If crime begins to rise again, Adams would be able to control the narrative by blaming the How Many Stops Act, said Charlie King, a Democratic strategist.

“It’s laid at the Council’s doorstep,” King said. “The mayor’s argument is: ‘I told you so. You should have worked with me to come up with a better bill.'”

As vocal as he has been about the bill in recent weeks, Adams still faces possible pitfalls if he seeks to use the issue to strengthen his stature on public safety.

Continuing to center his losing fight with the Council could distract from his messaging on his successes on crime. And it is not clear whether voters in Adams’ base — working- and middle-class voters of color who often support the presence of cops but loathe police abuse — are behind him in opposing the record-keeping measure. There is no robust public polling on the issue.

“I don’t know that this is something voters are following,” Alyssa Cass, a Democratic political strategist, said of the How Many Stops Act. “But they will if it stays in the news.”

She predicted that Adams would keep the fight alive, figuring he can use it as a wedge issue to target progressives who may be keen to knock him off his perch when he comes up for reelection next year. Adams, a former police captain, won the mayoralty in 2021 by running as a champion of public safety, while also emphasizing his background as a criminal justice reformer.

Cass said thinks Adams views the How Many Stops Act as a “way to show his continued toughness on crime and unapologetic approach to public safety.”

“From his calculus, the politics are all there,” Cass said.

But Basil Smikle, the director of Hunter College’s public policy program, said the question is tricky because Adams ran, in part, on police accountability. “He’s got to walk a fine line,” he said.

Whether Adams makes the bill a major talking point through next year’s election may depend on what opponents he faces, as well as the trajectory of crime rates, Smikle said.

As long as crime is going down, Smikle said, Adams may not feel he needs to “wield such a big hammer.”