More Than One Quarter of NYPD Stops on Street Appear Unjustified: Lawyer

Adam Klasfeld | Courthouse News Service

MANHATTAN (CN) – Even though the New York City Police Department has sharply curbed its stop-and-frisk program, a lawyer tapped to monitor reforms said Tuesday that more than one-quarter of the street stops he studied appear unjustified.

The NYPD began limiting its reliance on the Stop, Question and Frisk Program long before a federal judge in 2013 found the program unconstitutionally targeted black and Latino New Yorkers.

Street stops have declined steadily since their 2011 peak at 685,724 encounters, a year that brought three federal complaints alleging police racial profiling.

The most recent statistics show roughly 24,000 stops in 2015.

An attorney tasked with monitoring the NYPD criticized the quality of those stops Tuesday, while applauding the department’s “milestones” in implementing its body-worn-camera program, training programs and paperwork overhaul.

“Ultimately, this is a challenge of leadership, particularly at the levels that interact most directly with the officers engaged in enforcement – sergeants, lieutenants, captains, precinct and unit commanders,” the report by Arnold & Porter attorney Peter Zimroth states.

In her 2013 ruling, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered the NYPD to come up with a new form to more thoroughly document the reasons for each stop.

Studying the results of a pilot program that tested out approximately 600 new forms between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2015, Zimroth said the NYPD saw a 20 percent decrease in reported stops in commands using the new forms.

The department’s Quality Assurance Division found that police did not write down reasonable suspicion for 28 percent of stop, 27 percent of frisks and 16 percent of searches.

“In almost every case in which QAD found insufficient basis for the stop, frisk or search, the supervisor in that command nonetheless had signed off on the report and noted there was sufficient basis for the stop, frisk or search,” the 72-page report states.

In October, the NYPD launched the website for the public to track its progress, and new implementation deadlines are looming.

Although the NYPD official launched a small, voluntary body-worn camera program in December 2014, Zimroth said that the department will not be able to procure the cameras until this summer “at the earliest.”

The NYPD already disseminated a new patrol guide with revised stop-and-frisk rules emphasizing the bans on racial profiling, the monitor added.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, the advocacy groups representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement that the monitor “recognizes that much more work needs to be done to rectify decades of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing in New York.”

“To succeed, reform must be comprehensive: the NYPD has to overhaul the way it trains, supervises, evaluates, and holds its officers accountable to the communities they serve,” the group said.

Discussing Zimroth’s findings in a phone interview, Darius Charney with the Center for Constitutional Rights said the report shows the reforms process “is very much a work in progress.”

The NYPD has barely begun programs related to officer discipline, investigating complaints, and an early-intervention system, he added.

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Though the Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated 255 cases of an improper stop-and-frisk, and one case of an improper trespass arrest, the NYPD’s Department Advocate’s Office (DAO) has historically blocked discipline for officers involved in substantiated cases.

Such developments arise when the DAO disagrees with the board’s conclusions, and the monitor reported Tuesday that this gap is narrowing.

In 2015, the DAO accepted the board’s decision 55 percent of the time and disagreed 7 percent of the time. The remaining 38 percent of cases are still under review, according to the chart contained in the report.

For Charney and the CC, the concern moving forward is “how does this impact accountability for officers who break the law?”

The federal monitor is overseeing consent decrees stemming from three cases: Floyd v. City of New York, addressing racial disparities in stop-and-frisk generally; Ligon v. City of New York and Davis v. City of New York. The latter two both involve patrols of public and low-income housing.

The police deployments to public housing, often known as “vertical patrols,” came into harsh focus during the trial this month of ex-NYPD officer Peter Liang, who fatally shot an unarmed black man to death in a stairwell of East New York’s Pink Houses.

A Brooklyn jury convicted Liang of manslaughter.

Charney said reforming the vertical-patrol program will mean a “tricky” balance of several factors.”

“Folks obviously want to be safe wherever they live,” he added.

The New York City Law Department did not provide comment on the ruling by press time.

Published by Courthouse News Service.

Watch the video below to learn more about Stop-and-Frisk: