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Monday, May 14, 2012

Injustices of Stop and Frisk

Injustices of Stop and Frisk
The New York Times - EDITORIAL - May 13, 2012

The pressure is increasing on the New York City Police Department to reform its stop-and-frisk program under which New Yorkers, nearly all innocent of any crime, were stopped by the police close to 700,000 times last year. The department said recently that it was instructing precinct commanders to review the legality of all stop-and-frisk reports, according to a report by WNYC. But such reviews — which should have been done all along — will be meaningless unless independent investigators actually interview officers to determine the proportion of stops based on reasonable suspicion, as required by law, and the percentage based on improper racial profiling, in which blacks and Hispanics are singled out. The statistics are getting worse by the year. Last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a report — based on the department’s data — showing the number of street stops had grown to 685,724 in 2011 from about 97,000 in 2002, the year Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office. On Friday, the Police Department released data showing that the stops have occurred at an even higher pace for the first three months of this year. The city has repeatedly argued that the program helps to keep guns off the street. But the N.Y.C.L.U.’s analysis found that the proportion of gun seizures to stops has fallen sharply — only 780 guns were confiscated last year, not much more than the 604 guns seized in 2003, when officers made 160,851 stops. Young black and Hispanic men continued to be stopped in disproportionate numbers. They are only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, yet these males, between the ages of 14 and 24, accounted for 41.6 percent of stops last year. More than half of all stops were conducted because the individual displayed “furtive movements” — which is so vague as to be meaningless. The data also show that the police are significantly more likely to use force when they stop blacks and Hispanics than when they stop whites. This means minority targets are more likely to be slammed against walls or spread-eagled while officers go through their belongings. Even when victims are unhurt, they are likely to develop a deep and abiding distrust of law enforcement. For all this, only about 6 percent of stops lead to arrests. But the stops can also end with officers writing summonses for minor infractions like disorderly conduct. The police issue more than 500,000 summonses a year, most not arising from street stops but as part of the “quality of life” campaign the department embarked on in the 1990s. Some infractions can result in fines — some reaching hundreds of dollars — that can be hard for poor families to pay. Moreover, an unknown number of people who receive summonses do not show up in court to face judgment or pay their fines. Failure to appear can then lead to a bench warrant. The next time the person is stopped on the street, the outstanding warrant can lead to his being handcuffed and taken to jail. What began as a minor “quality of life” violation turns into an arrest record. Some former police officers, seeing this pattern, are increasingly vocal in their complaints about commanders forcing officers to make as many stops and to write as many summonses as possible. Some, like John Eterno, a retired police captain and chairman of the criminal justice department at Molloy College on Long Island, have talked openly about a “quota system” for stops, which department leaders deny. Several lawsuits have been filed by legal groups challenging the use of stop-and-frisk in many settings, including in public housing. The mounting evidence reveals a pattern of abusive policing that warrants the attention of the Justice Department, which should be using its broad authority to investigate these practices.

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