The New York Police Department’s stop and frisk police is facing increasing scrutiny from the City Council and a Federal Appellate Court.
While the Council plans to hold hearings in Brooklyn and Queens next week to give people a chance to express their views on a package of legislation designed to put restraints on the police as they stop hundreds of thousands of young men, mostly people of color, without an apparent cause, a federal Appellate court has given the green light to a class action suit so that it can proceed to trial scheduled for next March.
And in both cases, lawmakers whose Black and Hispanic constituents have borne the brunt of a policy which is widely seen as being unconstitutional say the Bloomberg Administration should change its attitude to the NYPD policy by instituting meaningful reforms.
“Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley should end their resistance to changes to the stop and frisk policy,” said New York City Council member Jumaaane William, a Democrat of Brooklyn who has been in the forefront of efforts to stop “the abuses of our young people’s constitutional rights.”
New York State Assembly Deputy Majority Leader, Nick Perry agreed.
“We all are interested in what happens next with the stop and frisk policy because we believe changes must be made and the Mayor and the NYPD Commissioner seem to feel it is okay, but it really isn’t acceptable,” Perry said after last week’s City Hall’s hearing on the bills that would change the stop and frisk tactics. “Many of my legislative colleagues believe stop and frisk can be an effective crime fighting tool, but they also believe the City must comply with the constitutional provision against racial profiling. After all, we live in a democracy and the way the policy is being applied is not in keeping with our constitution. The City’s Administration obviously believes it has the authority to ignore our constitutional guarantees in exchange for an ability to feel safe. The City, the Mayor and the Police Commission obviously feel we must give up the right to our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms in order to be safe. We don’t share that view. That’s why the City must change its policy.”
Just last week, the City lost its appeal to an earlier ruling that granted class action status to a suit challenging the stop and frisk tactics. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the federal district court had said in May that she was disturbed by the City’s “deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers most fundamental constitutional rights.” Just as serious, Judge Scheindlin described the City’s attitude as “cavalier” and complained about “suspicion- less stops” by police that were out of legal bounds.
When the City sought to press ahead with its efforts to derail the class action suit, the Appellate court denied the request.
“It’s one more rejection of the City’s efforts to delay the trial of the class action suit and it must now proceed,” said Councilmember Williams. “We want to see this matter settled in court because we are confident that people who brought it are acting within their rights to do so.”
More than 200,000 stops were made by the police in the first three months of this year, more than 80 per cent of them involved the detention of Black and Hispanic youth.
Williams is proceeding on another front in his fight to change the policy: the use of City Hall’s influence to force reforms by passing laws to curb the practice.
“There are four different bills on this matter. One deals with consent searches instead of implied consent,” he explained. “If you don’t say ‘no’ that is implied consent and the police can continue to search. We want to ensure that they get expressed consent from people. Another would require police officers to give a person who has been stopped but not arrested or given a summon information about where he or she can make a complaint any why the person was stopped. The third has to do with racial profiling. It has to do with the disparate impact of stop and frisk. Right now the policy has the effect of racial profiling and should be bad as well. Lastly, there is a bill whose prime sponsor is Councilmember Brad Lander which is calling for an independent oversight of the Police Department. The Fire Department, the Education Department and most if not all City agencies as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Central Intelligence Agency all have inspectors-general and we believe the Police Department should have one as well.”
Perry supports the attempt to create an inspector-general’s office in the NYPD.
“Even without the stop and frisk issue the NYPD needs an inspector-general to heighten oversight,” the Assemblyman said.