For decades, the NYPD has determined which journalists are allowed to take pictures at a crime scene, report on the streets after an 8 p.m. curfew, and enter police headquarters for news conferences. But on Tuesday morning, the NYPD announced that it is ready to relinquish that responsibility to another city agency.

The police department's new stance comes as the City Council debates a package of legislation aimed at police reform. One of those bills would transfer press credentialing authority away from the police department to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which handles employment issues for city agencies.

At a hearing to discuss the bill on Tuesday morning, NYPD attorney Oleg Chernyavsky framed the department's position as a welcome restructuring, and compared it to a recent decision by the de Blasio administration to move street vending enforcement away from the police.

Yet press representatives and civil rights attorneys were divided.

"If the issue is going behind police lines, the best judges of that are the police," Jane Tillman Irving, the head of the New York Press Club, said while opposing the bill.

Irving and others argued that the NYPD at least shows a modicum of respect for a credential that they themselves issue, though she said that has changed for the worse in recent years.

"They've been less forthcoming, members of the press are frequently sequestered down the street from the action," Irving noted.

Longtime civil rights attorney Norman Siegel countered that it is the duty of the Mayor's Office and the NYPD to ensure that police at the scene of breaking news events respect a press credential issued by another agency.

"The NYPD issues the press credential. The police officer out on the street becomes the complaining party. The NYPD becomes the judge, jury, and decision maker. You can't have a fair decision that way," Siegel said. "Take it away from the NYPD. That is the most important point that you all should be hearing over and over again."

Councilmember Adrienne Adams, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, said that she believed it was important to remove the NYPD's press credentialing authority because of an undercurrent of anti-press rhetoric that had been endorsed by some members of the department, including its union leaders, who supported former President Donald Trump.

"In looking at our own NYPD and the fact that a PA system was used in a certain area of this city to promote the former president, the fact that the president's items were touted in uniform," Adams said. "I'm not sure that the climate has necessarily changed."

Councilmember Kalman Yeger pointed out that the mayor receives as much, if not more press coverage, than the NYPD, and wondered how an agency within the Mayor's Office could be objective when issuing credentials. Yeger said that given the NYPD's need to restrict press access sometimes, it was appropriate for them to maintain control of the credentials. "To keep order, that's the most important job of a free society," Yeger said.

Other skeptics noted the bill's lack of any framework for how a new city agency would issue and regulate the credentials. Currently, journalists have no due process rights when the NYPD suspends or revokes their press card. This past summer, the NYPD was forced to create a new set of rules for how the system is governed, spurred by five years of litigation from journalist (and Gothamist contributor) J.B. Nicholas. But because of this pending legislation, the de Blasio administration has not signed off on that framework, which is now months overdue. (The Mayor's Office and the Law Department did not respond to a request for comment. The NYPD sent us the draft proposed rules.)

"Whatever the intentions of this bill, it's premature," said Al-Amyn Sumar, an attorney for the New York Times. "The NYPD rulemaking should be allowed to play out. It at least gives us a reference point. What are the ways that the current system is deficient?"

Councilmember Keith Powers, the main sponsor of the bill, said in a phone call on Tuesday afternoon that he "wasn't moved by that argument," though he did acknowledge the testimony from many during the hearing questioning his legislation's inclusion of a background check for credentialed journalists.

Powers's bill would give the Department of Citywide Administrative Services the press credentialing power, while the NYPD and the Mayor's Office support it going to the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment. Powers said that the details would have to be worked out, and the legislation would need to be tweaked, but that he hoped it could be passed along with the rest of the police reform package as soon as this spring.

"The starting point of this conversation is: should an agency that is so thoroughly covered by the press, should they also be in charge of issuing press credentials in New York City?" Powers said. "My answer to that is no."