The war over the Police Department’s practice of stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of people each year continues to be waged on two fronts.
The city last Friday took the first step toward appealing the Aug. 12 ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, who found the practice unconstitutional in that it discriminates against minorities, violating the 14th Amendment, and constitutes unreasonable search and seizure, violating the Fourth Amendment.
And today, Aug. 22, the City Council is set to override Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of the Community Safety Act, which comprises two police oversight bills drafted in response to the policy. They would make it easier for people who have been frisked to sue the department — though not for monetary damages — and would appoint an inspector general to oversee the NYPD.
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly say stops are not conducted in a discriminatory manner, pointing out that while minorities are stopped more often, they are also responsible for the vast majority of gun crimes in the city — more than 90 percent. And they say reining in stop and frisk would endanger the progress the city has made against violent crime over the last 20 years.
Opponents of the policy as practiced say that’s hogwash, and that the main effect of stop and frisk is to create a divide between the police and the public they serve.
Scheindlin ordered several “remedies” to reform the practice, including forcing some police officers to wear small video cameras to record interactions with suspects, and the appointment of an NYPD monitor — on top of the IG a majority of the Council wants.
The city maintains stop and frisk is legal, as per the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio, which determined that police may conduct such actions as long as an officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the target may have committed a crime or is about to commit one.
“As the mayor and Police Commissioner Kelly said on Monday, we strongly disagree with Judge Scheindlin’s order,” the city’s top attorney, Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, said Aug. 15 in announcing the city’s plan to appeal. “We said we’d take immediate steps to appeal, and we plan to do so tomorrow by filing our notice of appeal.”
The case is a class action suit, named Floyd et. al. v. City of New York.
The NYPD had until recently been conducting a growing number of stops, often resulting in frisks: quick searches for weapons or other contraband. The number of stops grew rapidly over 10 years, from 97,000 in 2002, Bloomberg’s first year in office, to 685,000 in 2011, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, citing NYPD data. In 2012 the number dipped to 533,000. The vast majority of people stopped are either black or Latino.
The administration contends stop and frisk is an effective crime-fighting tool that helps keep guns off the street.
Critics issued statements last week lauding Scheindlin’s ruling and then, a few days later, decrying the city’s announcement of its appeal.
One of the fiercest, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a Democratic candidate for mayor, quickly issued a statement last Thursday.
“The overuse and abuse of stop and frisk is driving police and communities apart instead of making our city safer,” de Blasio said. “Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to appeal the federal court’s ruling is wrong and deeply misguided.”
He continued, “I’m the only candidate committed to appointing a new police commissioner, creating an independent inspector general for the NYPD, and passing a ban on racial profiling. As mayor, I would drop this appeal on day one, and work with the federal monitor to make necessary changes at the NYPD to promote public safety and rebuild trust between police and our communities.”
Across the aisle, Republican frontrunner Joe Lhota took the opposite stance in a statement issued Friday, applauding the mayor for appealing and saying Scheindlin’s opinion was flawed. Lhota also blasted the Democratic contenders for repeatedly “vilifying” the Police Department.
“I’m incredibly disappointed with my opponents in this race who continue to vilify Commissioner Kelly and the brave men and women of the NYPD rather than be honest with New Yorkers about how to keep our streets safe,” he said. “I have yet to hear a single answer from them about how they would effectively lower crime in the absence of proactive policing. Every New Yorker who is concerned about the direction of our city should take heed of their positions.
“As mayor, I will continue this appeal and ensure that our law enforcement has the tools necessary to keep all New Yorkers safe. In the meantime, I urge the courts to initiate a speedy process before we begin to feel the dangerous effects of a handcuffed Police Department.”