The Right to Know Act went into effect on October 19, 2018, to protect the rights of civilians stopped or searched by the New York City Police Department. This law comes on the heels of the controversial “stop-and-frisk” tactics that a federal judge declared unconstitutional as “a policy of indirect racial profiling.” 

Civilians Have the Right to Know Who They’re Detained by and Why

First, the law requires officers to identify themselves– providing name, rank, command, and shield number at the beginning of a Level 2 or Level 3 stop, frisk, search, roadblock, checkpoint, home search, or investigatory questioning.

  • Level 1 – Request for Information: If an officer has a credible reason to approach you, they may ask where you’re going, where you’ve come from, where you live, or request identification. The officer may not restrict your freedom of movement, detain you without cause, or search you. You may ask, “Am I free to leave?” You do not need a business card in this case, but you have the right to ask for one.
  • Level 2 – Common Law Right of Inquiry: If an officer has a justified suspicion of criminal activity, they may ask, “Do you have anything on you? Did you just buy drugs?” or “Are there any weapons in there?” They may seek consent to search. You are free to walk away. With this law, officers in these cases must identify themselves, explain the encounter, inform you of your right to refuse consent, and offer you a business card.
  • Level 3 – Reasonable Suspicion to Stop: If an officer has a reasonable belief you have, are, or will commit a crime, they can restrict your freedom of movement, detain, and pursue you. You are not free to leave, and the officer may frisk or search you. However, with the passing of the Right to Know Act, officers may only search with consent and must inform you of your right to refuse consent. They can still search you without consent if they have reasonable suspicion that you are armed and dangerous. Officers must provide you with a business card at the end of the interaction.

Civilians Shall Receive A Business Card

Civilians must be offered a business card, directing them to where they may comment, inquire, or complain about an encounter with law enforcement. Civilians are also entitled to request a copy of body camera footage of the interaction, which must be delivered within 90 days.

Officers must hand out the cards at roadblocks and checkpoints, but not during traffic stops or when acting as security at special events. They do not have to offer cards when conducting bag checks at the subway station. However, they do if they wish to stop and search someone coming out of the station. Officers assigned to interview victims and witnesses of crime must also offer business cards.

Civilians Have the Right To Refuse A Home or Property Search Requiring Permission

Secondly, officers must also explain that they cannot perform home or property searches without the civilian’s permission. They must affirm that the civilian understands the reason for the search as well as their right to refuse. The consent requirements do not apply to searches conducted with a warrant– or under exceptions to the Fourth Amendment.

Under Right to Know, NYPD Needs Consent to Stop & Search On The Street

City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, the lead sponsor of the law, said ambiguity has led to civilian confusion regarding their rights during police stops. Officers can ask a person on the street who they are and where they’re going– without providing any reason for the questioning. However, the officer can only ask whether the civilian has a weapon or conduct a frisk if there is a justifiable reason to believe the person has or will commit a crime. Officers must explain why they are questioning a person and gain consent to conduct a pat-down.

What To Do If You Feel Your Rights Have Been Violated

If you are unsure of the circumstances or the police did not ask for consent to be searched, you can say, “I do not consent to be searched” to make your objection clear. You can also revoke consent. If you feel the officer has violated the law, reports can be requested online and must be provided within 10 days. You have the right to file a complaint of officer misconduct with the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

How We Can Help

Assistance can be sought through the Communities United for Police Reform or through a New York City civil rights lawyer at Friedman, Levy, Goldfarb & Green. If you have been a victim of police brutality, you may be eligible for financial recovery. It costs nothing upfront to pursue these claims. Call now for your free consultation.


  1. The New York Times.