(MintPress) – A federal judge struck a blow on the New York Police Department’s use of “stop-and-frisk” Tuesday. In a ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, the NYPD cannot stop people outside of certain Bronx apartment buildings for trespassing without “reasonable suspicion.” The plaintiffs in this case argued that the police stopped and even arrested the rightful tenants of these buildings and their guests as they entered and left the buildings. These buildings were enrolled in the Trespass Affidavit Program, or TAP.
TAP is a component of the NYPD’s Operation Clean Halls, in which landlords gave the police a roster of building tenants and permission to stop and arrest unknown visitors.
Operation Clean Halls started in 1991 as an attempt to crack down on and stop drug dealing and other illegal activities inside privately-owned buildings. This is a part of the city’s broader “stop-and-frisk” strategy — a controversial agenda that empowered the police to stop and search individuals who arouse their suspicions.
“Stop-and-frisk” — New York City’s interpretation of New York State Criminal Procedure Law § 140.50 — is a practice taken by the NYPD that allows a police officer who has reasonable suspicion that a person who has committed, is in the process of committing or will immediately commit a felony or a penal law misdemeanor to stop and question the person, and — if the officer reasonably suspects that he or she is in danger of committing or being subject to physical injury — frisk the person for weapons.
In her 157-page ruling, Scheindlin wrote, “While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx.”
Scheindlin added, “The evidence of numerous unlawful stops at the hearing strengthens the conclusion that the NYPD’s inaccurate training has taught officers the following lesson: stop and question first, develop reasonable suspicion later.”
In a written response, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stated, “Today’s decision unnecessarily interferes with the department’s efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep Clean Halls buildings safe and secure.“
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, more than 8,000 apartment buildings are patrolled under Operation Clean Halls. About 40 percent of these buildings, 3,261 in all, are in the Bronx — which is predominantly black and Latino in population. A preliminary injunction was placed against the police to block trespassing stops only outside Operation Clean Halls buildings in the Bronx. Scheindlin also listed possible corrective actions for the NYPD, which includes the creation of a formal policy for trespass stops, improved training and supervision of officers and more rigorous reporting of stops.
Michael Cardozo, corporation counsel for the New York City’s Law Department, argues that these requirements “place an unacceptable burden on the NYPD.”
Two more “stop-and-frisk” cases are pending before the court. The court is scheduled to determine the remedies the police must enact at a hearing in March.
Mark D. Naison is a professor of African and African-American Studies and 20th Century African-American History at Fordham University. In conversation with MintPress, Naison offers, “With a judge’s order halting ‘stop-and-frisk,’ young people of color in the Bronx will breathe a huge sigh of relief. While the policy may have been effective in getting guns off the street, the collateral damage — in terms of systematic intimidation of a generation of young people in the borough — is not worth the gain.”
Naison discusses his experiences documenting “stop-and-frisk,” saying that “whenever I bring the subject up, I have been deluged with stories by law abiding young people of being thrown against cars, forced to lie down on the sidewalk and of being arrested or beaten if they challenged what the police were doing.
“The police in the Bronx are widely perceived by young people as a ‘lawless gang’ who brook no challenge to their authority. A group of young hip hop artists I work with — Rebel Diaz — were beaten and arrested four years ago when they asked a police officer to identify himself when he was confiscating the cart of a non-English speaking fruit vendor, and when I told an attorney who worked for a Bronx Legal Defense organization, she said ‘asking a police officer for his badge number in the Bronx is an automatic trip to central booking.’
“This kind of disrespect for the law on the part of police officers in unacceptable in a democratic society and breeds disrespect for the law among the young people who experience it.”
This kind of stop is known as a Terry stop, and was found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court in the case of Terry v. Ohio. As of 2011, the NYPD has stopped 684,330 people, of which the vast majority is black and Latino. Most of those who were stopped were not arrested; just 12 percent of all who were stopped received summons to appear in court, as reported by the Guardian.
Of those stopped in 2011, 92 percent were male and 87 percent were African-American or Latino.
The NYPD holds to the idea that “stop-and-frisk” was directly responsible for the murder rate drop over the last 10 years. NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne attests that the police recovered 8,263 weapons in 2011 as a result of the stops, including 819 guns.
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) disputes this claim, “No research has ever proven the effectiveness of New York City’s stop-and-frisk regime, and the small number of arrests, summonses, and guns recovered demonstrates that the practice is ineffective. Crime data also do not support the claim that New York City is safer because of the practice. While violent crimes fell 29 percent in New York City from 2001 to 2010, other large cities experienced larger violent crime declines without relying on stop and frisk abuses: 59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas, and 37 percent in Baltimore.”
The NYCLU argues that New York City was already in a trend of decreasing murder rates prior to the implementation of “stop-and-frisk.” The 11 percent drop in the murder rate from 1990 to 2011 is consistent with the rate established before “stop-and-frisk.” In addition, the number of shooting victims has not decreased. According to the NYCLU, there were 1,892 victims of gunfire and 97,296 stops in 2002. In 2011, there were 1,821 victims with 685,724 stops.
Guns have been found in less than 0.02 percent of all “stop-and-frisk” stops, or — in 2011 — only 138 of the 685,724 stops performed yielded a gun.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, argues that “the kind of work that needs to be done requires deploying police officers in communities with the mandate to serve their communities, to get to know the communities, be on foot patrols, to try to ferret out crime based on suspicious behavior, not based on the color of people’s skin and not based on the statistics in the community. Crime statistics are important but crime statistics don’t provide a justification to stop you or me in particular.”
This is a position once held by Ray Kelly, who — in 2000 — said, “[A] large reservoir of good will was under construction when I left the Police Department in 1994. It was called community policing. But it was quickly abandoned for tough-sounding rhetoric and dubious stop-and-frisk tactics that sowed new seeds of community mistrust.”
However, the officers on the beat have a different opinion of “stop-and-frisk.” Sgt. Ed Mullins is an officer of the New York Police Department and president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association.
In discussion with MintPress, he commented, “I understand how people may feel the way they do about stop-and-frisk, but what’s always left out of the equation is that we target those who fit a description. Our (the NYPD’s) role of stopping someone is based on an incident report from someone in that particular neighborhood.”
The price of ‘tough talk’
Federal class action suits have so far been filed against the NYPD by the NYCLU, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Bronx Defenders. The NYCLU has also filed suit against the NYPD in regards to the NYPD’s Taxi/Livery Inspection Program, in which a taxi can be pulled over by the police and all occupants of the vehicle can be searched. This type of search does not meet the definition of a Terry stop, according to the NYCLU, and is therefore unconstitutional.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) of the NYPD has reported that there have been 1,720 complaints filed in regards to “stop-and-frisk” in 2011, constituting a third of all police complaints.
According to the Comptroller of New York City, personal injury and police misconduct lawsuits against the NYPD reached a high of 8,882 for 2011, or a 55 percent rise from just five years ago. New York City paid $185.6 million to settle the lawsuits. More cases are being first heard in court, instead of the CCRB, which shows a general disregard for the authority of the civilian board to police or address the actions of the NYPD.
In regards to this, the Law Department and the NYPD have begun to target officers who abuse the “stop-and-frisk” policy or use excessive force in stops. In addition, new departmental policies dialed back the number of tolerated stops in 2012. Commissioner Kelly claims that the reduction is due to changes in Operation Impact, which tasked new recruits to patrol the most dangerous sections of the city and ferret out suspicious behavior. However, in interviews with the New York Times, two officers admitted that the reduction in stops have more to do with cops being afraid for their jobs in light of the growing controversy.
Despite the fact that high school and college-aged African-American and Latino men make up on 7.2 percent of the population in New York City, they constitute 41 percent of all “stop-and-frisk” stops. While NYPD statistics show that 66 percent of all violent crime victims are black, and while the police admit to 53 percent of all stopped being black, only 6 percent are arrested. Many African-Americans who have been stopped repeatedly by the police now see their presence on the street as a de facto crime in the eyes of the police: “walking while black.”
It is commonly believed that the lack of trust and faith that the neighborhoods most affected by “stop-and-frisk” feel toward the police will exacerbate, instead of reduce, the crime rate. The notions that a person can be trespassing in his own home and that the police have created a siege state in which residents are continuously under suspicion destroys the notions of community and leads to a general animosity against the law and those who use the law offensively, as reported in the Center for Constitutional Rights’ “Stop and Frisk: The Human Impact.”
One interviewee for the report, Carl W., offers, “You shouldn’t be held up in your apartment, if you have one. You shouldn’t be afraid to come outside and go to the store to get a soda for fear that the police are going to stop you, and you’re either going to get a expensive, a high-cost summons or you’re going to get arrested.”
Another interviewee reported, “When they stop you in the street, and then everybody’s looking … it does degrade you. And then people get the wrong perception of you. That kind of colors people’s thoughts towards you, might start thinking that you’re into some illegal activity, when you’re not. Just because the police [are] just stopping you for – just randomly. That’s humiliating [on] its own…I get nervous, I get paranoid ’cause you never know what’s going to happen, and I don’t feel safe, like especially in Queens, ’cause they just pull you from no matter what, any reason. And they won’t tell you anything.”
Whites constitute 44 percent of the population in New York City. They makes up only 10 percent of all stops.
“Stop-and-frisk” is not the only civil rights suit the NYPD is facing. The NYPD is facing a wrongful termination suit due to the fact that the department felt a Hasidic Jew’s beard did not meet the uniform code. The NYPD is also in trouble for its spying activities against Muslim communities outside of its jurisdiction, for blocking the admission to its training academy a Muslim recruit on the basis of his anti-gay bias, the tactics the force used on Occupy Wall Street protesters, the allegation that the NYPD used arrest quotas and for the wrongful imprisonment of a potential whistleblower.