Update below

Back in July, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito blocked a vote on the Right to Know Act, a package of police-reform legislation that included a requirement for police to get signed consent before performing searches that otherwise would have no basis in the law, i.e. no warrant or probable cause. The legislation had broad support among City Councilmembers, and advocates argue the search component is necessary because police routinely perform illegal searches and justify them by claiming to have gotten verbal consent.

In acknowledging her obstruction of the vote, Mark-Viverito said that then-NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton would make that and other reforms internally, and that legislation was unnecessary.

"This is change; this is reform. This is moving forward," Mark-Viverito said at the time.

Indeed, on October 15th, a change to the police patrol guide went into effect requiring the search consent forms, according to the New York Post (a police reform activist who has followed the negotiations closely said that he was unaware of such a change, and proposed revisions made public as part of stop-and-frisk litigation do not include it, though they do call for affirmative verbal consent and offering the person searched a card with the officer's identifying information). However, one major NYPD union is already telling its officers to buck the apparent mandate.

The Post reports that Lieutenant Benevolent Association president Lou Turco sent an email to the union's 1,720 members saying officers should try to avoid being around when the consent forms might be required because the forms could be used against them in Civilian Complaint Review Board proceedings.

"It is our belief that in a scenario where a person signs a Consent to Search form…the staff of the Civilian Complaint Review Board will most likely accept the complainant’s claim that they were forced/coerced to sign the Consent to Search form," Turco wrote, according to the tabloid. "We recommend that our members not routinely, proactively, and knowingly put themselves into situations where a Consent to Search form must be utilized."

If this is an argument for officers refraining from making unjustified searches, rather than a thinly veiled effort to tell cops to simply ignore the form requirement, police reform advocates would likely applaud it. As the group Communities United for Police Reform explains on a section of its website devoted to promoting the Right to Know Act:

NYPD officers routinely conduct searches without legal justification other than an individual’s assumed “consent”. Too often, that is achieved by misleading New Yorkers into giving “consent” by simply ordering them to empty their pockets or open up their bags, without informing them that they do not have to agree. Most New Yorkers are unaware that they have the right to refuse such “consent” searches when the officer has no warrant, probable cause to believe they committed a crime, or other legal justification. The rights of New Yorkers to provide informed and voluntary consent to searches, and to decline such consent when there is no legal justification, should be protected.

What is unclear to this reader of Turco's purported email is why a claim that a civilian's consent form signature was coerced would carry any more weight with the CCRB than a claim that one's verbal consent was coerced, or never happened, which seems to come up often—in 2015, 485, or more than 10 percent of CCRB complaints included an allegation of an improper search.

I reached out to the LBA for further clarification on Turco's edict, but a man who answered the phone said that Turco is "out in the field," and will remain there for most of the day.

Other police unions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Update 3:10 p.m.:

The NYPD's press office sent A statement from Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Larry Byrne reading, "We are aware of what the LBA president said about consent to search forms and do not agree with it." The statement goes on to say that the department has "used written consent to search forms for a long time." It's unclear in what situations the forms are used or what about their use changed on October 15th. We'll update if we hear back about that.

The statement concludes, "All of our officers are expected to comply with this (and all other) department policies."