Perhaps no issue has been subject to more heated debate in New York City lately then the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy.
The procedure, which allows police officers to stop anyone they may suspect of having a weapon or drugs and search them, has been called a valuable tool to fight crime by many, but statistics as of late have some saying police are using the procedure to unfairly target minorities.
The concerns have led to the introduction of four bills on the City Council aiming to curb — or completely eliminate — stop and frisk as a policy.
The bills, sponsored by Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), would:
• require officers, when conducting stops, to identify themselves, provide their name and rank and explain the reason for the stop;
• strengthen the ban on racial, ethnic and gender profiling when determining who to stop;
• require that individuals stopped are informed of their right to refuse a search and force officers to obtain proof of their consent, if granted, in cases in which there is no other legal basis to conduct a search; and
• establish an inspector general’s office to oversee the NYPD.
The City Council held a hearing on the four bills on Oct. 10, during which fireworks erupted between council members over the policy.
“I’ve long said that although I believe stop, question and frisk should remain a tool in the toolbox of police officers, that when you have almost 800,000 stops at the peak, targeting almost exclusively African-American and Latino men, in neighborhoods which are lower income, that is a problem,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) argued at the hearing.
The bills, together called the Community Safety Act, have divided the City Council, with some slamming the bills as “anti-cop.”
“I support stop and frisk,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) told the Queens Chronicle last week. “It has resulted in taking thousands of guns off the street. For us to second guess the NYPD or give half-hearted support for it is very disingenuous.”
But Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) disputed the notion that stop and frisk has taken guns off the street, noting that the police have just as much — if not more success — without it. He pointed to a recent gun bust in Harlem as an example of a success without stop and frisk.
Comrie said the policy was instead poisoning the relationship between cops and the community.
“Stop and frisk is about creating a larger police presence with a diminished force,” he said. “It’s a pre-emptive type of police action.”
According to official 2011 statistics from the NYPD, the highest number of stop and frisks in Queens were recorded in Downtown Jamaica, Queensbridge and North Corona — in the 103rd, 114th and 110th precincts respectively, all areas with high minority populations.
But despite the high incidences of stop and frisks in those neighborhoods, the number of guns found were not many. At Queensbridge, where two people have been shot in the past three weeks, only one gun was found in more than 1,600 stop and frisks. In Downtown Jamaica, more than 2,200 stop and frisks ended with only four guns found — the same number of guns found in a three-block radius of Kew Gardens Hills, in which a total of five guns were discovered in the community in 2011 despite fewer than 100 stop and frisks there.
The statistics show a similar trend where multiple guns were found in areas with few stop and frisks in other parts of the borough. In a two-block stretch of Union Turnpike in Glen Oaks, two guns were found in January, but only 57 stop and frisks were recorded in the neighborhood during the year.
In Maspeth, two guns were found despite fewer than 50 stop and frisks in the few blocks surrounding the site. But the guns were both found in one search late in the year — Oct. 29, 2011 during a stop on the Long Island Expressway service road — and because the NYPD did not release dates of stop and frisks that did not end in a weapons discovery, it is not known if the number of stops increased in the final months of year as compared to before the discovery.
In all, the vast majority of stop and frisks — almost 88 percent — did not end in a summons or arrest.
These statistics have been interpreted by opponents of stop and frisk as a sign the policy is unfairly targeted at minorities. Their case appeared to be emboldened when The Nation published an audio recording allegedly taken by a Harlem teenager who was stopped in June, in which the cops call him a vulgar name and threaten him. Three lawsuits have also ben filed against the NYPD including one that was given class action status by a federal judge in May.
U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote in a seperate ruling last week that she saw “overwhelming evidence” that thousands had been stopped unlawfully.
At the hearing last week, Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) said her family members, doctor and minister — all of whom are black — all have been subject to stop and frisks.
Although the statistics show that while high numbers of stop and frisks were concentrated in mainly minority areas, some neighborhoods with high black and Hispanic populations did not register high numbers of stops.
In Laurelton, seven guns were found during stops in 2011, but fewer than 300 stop and frisks were recorded in the neighborhood, which is over 90 percent black. Around LeFrak City, fewer than 200 stop and frisks led to three guns being found.
Some opponents of the policy, such as Comrie, said they have heard from people subjected to stop and frisk who felt the police “baited” them into committing other crimes to give them a reason for an arrest.
“I’ve had witnesses come to me and tell me how they were treated by police,” he said. “They were baited by police, embarrassed by police, to get them angry.”
He said cops would then use their anger as probable cause to search cars or homes. In many cases, the statistics show guns found during stop and frisks were discovered in cars or in apartments.
Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the statistics show that the policy is working and deterring crime.
“These bad guys are saying, ‘We can’t carry guns here anymore,’’’ he said a few days before the hearing. “That’s why there are less guns where stop and frisk is being done often.”
But Williams echoed Comrie’s complaints at the hearing last week that stop and frisk has eroded the public’s trust in the NYPD in the neighborhoods where they commonly take place.
Vallone did agree that the policy needs strict oversight to prevent its abuse, but says that already exists.
“I have led the reform effort,” Vallone said. “I wrote the city’s civil rights law. I was the first to ask Ray Kelly not to hold on to this information.”
He was referring to the disposal of records on stop and frisk for public view.
Only a handful of Queens council members support the four bills: Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans); Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights); James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) and Julissa erreras (D-East Elmhurst). Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica) supports the latter three bulls while Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) supports the measures that would curb “bias-based” profiling and create an inspector general to oversee the department. That component is also supported by Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), the only Republican to support any of the proposed legislation.
Kevin Ryan, Halloran’s spokesman, said the councilman is open to the idea of the inspector general, even though he is a strong supporter of stop and frisk, because he supports strict oversight to protect civil rights.
“He’s not in favor of completely unchecked police power, and he believes having an inspector general might be a good idea,” Ryan said. “The fact that he signs onto the bill gives him some input on it. ”
Comrie described the bills as “conversation starters.”
“There is a need to figure out a way to create a better methodology and better training for police officers,” he said. “You can be as effective with not being aggressive to the point where you’re trying to create the harassment situation”
Ulrich suggested a change in the way stop and frisks are done to take into account a certain radius around high crime areas instead of precinct boundaries. He notes two of the precincts in his district — the 102nd and 106th — abut high-crime areas in South Jamaica and East New York, Brooklyn, and that crime does not end at precinct boundaries.
He also had sharp words for the supporters of the Community Safety Act.
“We live in the city and there are good guys and bad guys, and if you’re one of the good guys, you have nothing to worry about,” he said. “Anyone who supports these bills should have their head examined.”
The City Council is continuing to hold hearings on the four bills. One will be held Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. at York College in Jamaica.