New York City Council Seeks to Limit Police Stop-and-Frisks

The New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy came under attack from city council members considering four laws that would restrict the encounters and create an inspector general to monitor the practices.

Police stopped 685,724 people they deemed suspicious on streets in 2011, of whom 84 percent were black or Hispanic, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based nonprofit that in 2008 filed a federal civil-rights suit in Manhattan against the NYPD over the tactic.

“It’s despicable, totally unacceptable and it should not be tolerated by the NYPD,” Harlem Councilman Robert Jackson told Michael Best, counsel to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who opposes the bills. “It needs to be totally revamped and it needs to be done now.”

About 200 people packed the council’s City Hall chambers today for the hearing, where members took turns questioning Best and expressing disappointment at the absence of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who declined an invitation to appear. More hearings are scheduled in New York’s five boroughs in the next several weeks.

Best presented a statement to the Committee on Public Safety arguing that it had no power to change police practices. The state has exclusive control, he said. Council Speaker Christine Quinn said her members rejected the administration’s argument. A council memo created for the hearing cited the 1993 creation of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate police abuse as one example of legislative oversight.

Quinn’s Message

“I hope today’s hearing sends a message that the council’s call for reforming stop, question and frisk continues,” said Quinn, a probable Democratic mayoral candidate in 2013. “Although stop, question and frisk should be used as a tool in the police department’s tool box, when we have almost 800,000 stops at the peak targeting almost exclusively African-American and Latino men in neighborhoods of lower income, clearly that is a problem.”

The NYPD patrol guide informs officers they may stop and question a person they suspect has committed or is about to commit a crime, frisk the individual by running hands over clothing to feel for a weapon and search inside a pocket or other clothing to determine if an object is a weapon.

A small percentage of those stops result in finding weapons, Quinn said.

Inspector General

Today’s hearing began a day after The Nation magazine published an audio recording purporting to capture a police officer stopping a Harlem teenager, threatening to break his arm and using a profanity while calling him a “mutt.”

New York spent $633 million settling and paying judgments on thousands of lawsuits alleging police abuse and civil-rights violations from 2006 to 2011. The new laws would allow a person to sue the city with evidence that an officer was motivated by racial profiling in a stop-and-frisk.

The laws would also create an office of inspector general within the NYPD to monitor civil liberties and community relations. Police would be required to identify themselves when stopping people and obtain consent before searching someone’s pockets or belongings.

Crime in the most populous U.S. city dropped 34 percent from 2001 to 2011, including a 21 percent decrease in the homicide rate. The mayor attributes the declines to the city’s $4.5 billion, 35,000-officer police department, and its stop-and-frisk policies.

“If you want to bring crime back, let’s go politicize control of the police department,” Bloomberg said during an Oct. 8 news conference. “The last thing we need is to have some politician or judge getting involved with setting policy because you won’t be safe anymore.”

The mayor, a political independent, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg news parent Bloomberg LP.

The Center for Constitutional Rights case is Floyd v New York City, 08-01034, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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