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h. f. guggenheim

Stopped, Frisked and Angry

May 16, 2012 04:35:00 am
Comments (6)

By Perry Chiaramonte

An earlier version of this story was originally published on FoxNews.com.

Baltimore native Chris Bilal was returning home from the laundromat in his adopted Brooklyn neighborhood when he was stopped by a police officer. The NYPD officer peppered the 24-year-old with questions about where he lived, requested Bilal’s ID, and rummaged through his bag.

“(He asked me) ‘Let me see your ID. Where are you from?  Do you live around here?’” Bilal recalled.

The search of Bilal’s bag of freshly cleaned and folded laundry was just as methodical. The search produced nothing, and the officer sent Bilal on his way.

“They were searching for drugs,” said Bilal. “The funny thing was that it was a mesh laundry bag. I’m not sure what I could hide.”

The not-so-funny thing:  it wasn’t the first time. Bilal, an African American who moved to New York a year ago to pursue a career as an artist, says he is repeatedly stopped, questioned—and on occasion, frisked---by New York City police.

“I feel guilty all the time,” he said.  “I feel like I’m being watched and targeted all the time.”

Bilal is just one of the faces hidden behind the statistics of the New York Police Department (NYPD) controversial Stop, Question and Frisk policy, in which officers can make random stops if they have reason to suspect an individual  possesses weapons, drugs or contraband---or may have been guilty of a crime. 

In 2011, the NYPD stopped 685,724 people---of whom an overwhelming 88 percent were deemed innocent.

Deterring Crime

Supporters of the policy say it is an effective tool for deterring crime, and for proof they point to the city’s steep drop in criminal activity over the past decade—one of the steepest in the nation.

Skeptics, however, including prominent criminologists, argue the Stop, Question and Frisk policy, first launched in the mid 1990s by the administration of  Mayor Rudy Giuliani, .was only one of many factors in the city’s crime decline—and was most effective when it was linked to aggressive strategies that targeted specific known high-crime areas and individuals.

 “[NYPD] Commissioner Kelly says he believes that the large number of Stop and Frisks prevents crime, but the data really doesn’t support that,” said Prof. Delores Jones-Brown, director of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College in New York.

“The overwhelming problem with Stop and Frisk is that many of the people stopped are innocent.”

Jones-Brown co-authored a 2010 report on the NYPD’s Stop, Question and Frisk policy.

The findings of “Stop, Question and Frisk policing practices in New York City: A primer,” concluded that the number of stops tripled between 2003 and 2009, and a majority of the people stopped were either black or Hispanic.

Nevertheless, police and city officials say the practice has been especially effective at getting guns off the streets.

However, while statistics do show a steady decline in gun violence stretching back several years, an updated version of Jones-Brown’s study  expected to be released soon shows that in 2011 only 0.4 percent of all arrests during Stop and Frisk were for gun possession.

A majority of the arrests concerned possession of contraband items, such as drugs and drug paraphernalia.

A separate detailed report released by the New York Civil Liberties Union last week shows that of 56 percent of the stops that resulted in a search, only 1.9 percent were found with a weapon.

Racial Impact

The study also concludes that while young black and Latino men account for only 4.7 percent of New York City’s population, they accounted for more than 40 percent of all stops in the city.

While they were more likely to be frisked than young white males, the study also shows they were less likely to be found with a weapon.

Jones-Brown believes complaints have only made the NYPD more stubborn in its embrace of the policy.

“The requests from the communities where these stops occur have caused (NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly) and his supporters to stand behind it more and more. I think it says something bad about police and community relations,” said Jones-Brown.

Local reports also surfaced last week that commanders from every precinct have been ordered by top officials to carefully review all stop, question, and frisk reports to ensure that proper protocol is being used by officers.

The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment on this story. But the policy has plenty of support from the rank-and-file.

“Stop and Frisks are a necessary evil,” said Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, an NYPD union. “A lot of times it’s hard for the general public to understand.”

He said subjects targeted for stops are not victims of racial profiling.

“I understand how people may feel the way they do about Stop and Frisk, but what’s always left out of the equation is that we target those that fit a description,” Mullins said. “Our role of stopping someone is based on an incident report from someone in that particular neighborhood.”

Still, Mullins recognizes the policy can have a negative effect on community relations, especially if it is overused.

“The issue shouldn’t be people being stopped,” Mullins said. “It should be the frequency (with)  which it happens.”

City-Wide Coalition

Nearly 30 advocacy groups within the city’s five boroughs formed Communities United for Police Reform, with the goal of ending what they consider discriminatory practices by the NYPD.

“It’s not ‘Stop and Frisk’ that’s happening, and it’s not in that order,” said Jose Lopez, who works as a community outreach leader for Make the Road NY, a Brooklyn-based community advocacy group that is part of the coalition.

“We are not getting stopped, questioned and frisked,” Lopez said. “We are getting searched. There’s a difference.”

“Every time I get stopped, I’m not getting questioned first. I’m usually stopped, then searched. I’m usually questioned after they find nothing,” he added.

Lopez, a youth worker,  says that young people who are stopped are most concerned that it gives them an undeserved reputation in their neighborhoods as suspected criminals—a stigma that never quite goes away.

“That looms in the head of all the community members watching, wondering, if these kids did something,” he said. “So when that’s not addressed at that moment, it’s left up to an individual to decide on their own without enough information.”

Another member of Communities United is City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who has been vocal about changing Stop/Frisk policies since he experienced it firsthand while attending the annual West Indian Labor Day Parade in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, last September. “Stop and Frisk is a good police tool that should be used for the purposes that it was intended,” said Williams, who represents the 45th District in Brooklyn. “What I think is happening now is that it’s being abused in specific communities, specifically black and Latino communities.”

“If there is some sort of probable cause, there is reason to stop someone,” Williams added. “But being black or Latino is not a probable cause. “

Regulating Stop and Frisk

In February, Williams introduced three bills before the City Council to try to regulate the rampant use of Stop, Question and Frisk, by increasing police accountability and reducing racial profiling.

The bills propose:

  • Barring police officers from using race, gender, ethnicity or sexual identity as a just cause to stop someone on the street.
  • Requiring police to inform every individual stopped that he or she can refuse to be searched..
  • Requiring all officers not on undercover assignments to give their  personal business cards to anyone stopped under the policy..

A council vote on the bills is pending.

Getting guns off the street and saving lives trumps many of the concerns of the policy’s critics, said City Councilman Peter Vallone.

“I think Commissioner Kelly summed it up best at our last committee hearing. (He said) ‘What alternative do you propose?,” commented  Vallone, who represents Astoria, Queens, and also serves as the chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee.

“No one has an alternative on how to get guns off our streets. What do we do? Wait until a shooting happens or do we try to prevent it?

“We had 800 guns removed from the streets last year. Do you know how many lives that saves?”

The councilman conceded that a disproportionate number of black males are being stopped compared to whites, but he argued police should base their decisions on professional observation, and not worry about statistical comparisons.

“Doing so would necessitate quotas to make sure everyone was getting stopped at the same rate,” said Vallone, who also co-sponsored a law that banned racial profiling by law enforcement in New York. “What the stops should be compared to is civil observations.” Vallone also dismisses claims that the relatively low arrest rate of 12 percent proves Stop, Question and Frisk is ineffective.

“That rate makes absolute sense when it comes to stop and frisk.” He said. “The stops are based on reasonable suspicion, not probable cause. It would be impossible to get higher numbers based on this.”

Other Cities Reconsider

While the debate in New York continues, many other American cities have dropped or modified their stop, question and frisk techniques.

In 2011, Philadelphia settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), agreeing to collect more data on Stop and Frisk incidents and to ease up on the practice, refraining from questionable methods.

In 2008, Baltimore settled a suit brought by the NAACP on similar terms. In the consent decree, the Baltimore Police Department agreed to end its policy of Zero Tolerance Policing and to require officers to provide their names and badge numbers to those who make a request while stopped.

The proposed measures are similar to Williams’ bill in New York City.

Cincinnati has also agreed to terms for a similar decree filed in Ohio.

In California, the cities of San Diego and East Palo Alto have done away with Stop, Question and Frisk entirely, focusing on more direct engagement with the community and focusing on suspects with probable cause.

While lawyers wrangle in New York over whether Stop and Frisk curtails civil liberties, Bilal, and countless otherss like him, must think twice every time they see a police officer approaching them on the street: are they going to be treated as innocent civilians or potential lawbreakers?

“It kind of sucks,” said Bilal.

Bilal admired police officers while growing up in Baltimore. But the feeling of always being under suspicion has left him disillusioned about the Big Apple.

“ “I kind of aspired to always come here; and when I did, I was like, ‘Yes! I’ve finally come here. I can be free,’” he said.

“It really hasn’t turned out that way.”

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for Fox News.com, and a 2012 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Reporting Fellow.  This article was written as part of the HF Guggenheim Fellowship program operated by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College in New York.  He welcomes comments from readers.

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Posted by Seevarathinam
Wednesday, June 06, 2012 07:00

Dicon:IT IS NOT A REHAB! Most rehabs are in pleacs such as Doset, Wales, Weston Super Mare. Countryside. Is your complaint about the documentation or the fact there is a proposed drug service nearby? I doubt there will be more needles in the street as I would hope the service users wouldn’t be using illegal drugs when attending. Surely they get tested for substances when they attend?Everybody else:I too have 2 small children under 5 and thankfully remain unaffected by drugs or drug issues. I have family members who are not so lucky. There are many residents in Brockley addicted to illegal substances. There are also many residents who are alcoholics etc. Perhaps we could ask them all to leave Brockley alone so the likes of us can enjoy it in peace and tranquility. Perhaps we could tell Wetherspoons to move their pub as it would encourage alcoholics to accumillate there?I really think we are looking at Brockley with rose tinted glasses, the sirens are constant (so the comment about the police presence is almost laughable, there’s CCTV all over the place too and I undertsnad this is manned footage so an actual person see’s things as they happen!Do you really think these centres will encourage more drug gangs into the area? Don’t you think they would be more likely to want to stay away from the limelight?I’m afraid your comment was too long for me to read the whole of it. Apologies if you addressed any of this in that.And I too live in Brockley and support this service. They can have my back yard it they like but I don’t think it’s big enough. ; )

Posted by Dennys
Wednesday, June 06, 2012 12:06

I work in a small college town, and I’m conilnualty amazed by the naivety, helplessness and uselessness of these kids who have NO skills beyond academics and athletics. College is a relatively safe place for kids to finally grow up. (Some never do, but that’s a different subject.) A college education not only broadens the intellect, it teaches problem solving and conflict resolution skills – signs of maturity.I know police academies have A LOT to teach, but I wonder how much conflict theory is stressed. It sounds esoteric and “Ivory Tower,” but it’s not. It makes sense from day one, and it’s useful in every situation. Do academies just give brief introductions to the subject, or do they really dig into it?

Posted by Pete G
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 03:33

“In 2011, the NYPD stopped 685,724 people—-of whom an overwhelming 88 percent were deemed innocent.”

Mr. Chiaramonte’s choice of language and general thrust of this editorial indicates a significant disconnect from the United States’ legal system and precedent. Persons may be stopped, questioned and even searched due to articulable criteria clearly established by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The use of “deemed innocent” in the first section is completely disconnected from our contemporary jurisprudence. Innocence is a term that has effects well beyond any simple stop-and-frisk. Innocence cannot be established for anyone in brief encounter in on the street and nor should it.

I know of no police officer in the United States who has the power to pronounce innocence. Police officers may not find evidence of a crime and therefore not have cause to believe a crime has been committed, but officers do not judge innocence. Innocence is a concept that rarely occurs in the actual judicial proceedings in this country.

Words have meaning and by distributing this kind of ignorance, John Jay College looks the fool. Please provide Mr. Chiaramonte an opportunity to learn about the U.S. legal system during his fellowship and help him edit his borderline silly writing.

Posted by James
Tuesday, May 22, 2012 01:26

“Another member of Communities United is City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who has been vocal about changing Stop/Frisk policies since he experienced it firsthand while attending the annual West Indian Labor Day Parade in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, last September.”

Um, do you mean the incident in which Jumaane tried to push his way into a frozen area and was told by police he could not enter? The one where after this, he played the “do you know who I am” card and hopped the police barricade and fought with the cops who detained him for dong so? The incident in which he used his political connections to squash the summons? What Jumaane Williams experienced firsthand was the direct result of Jumaane Williams being an ass. Taking policy prescriptions from that guy would be like taking skiing lessons from Sunny Bono.

Posted by flowergirl89
Friday, May 18, 2012 12:09

 Being fat is the least of our worries for police officers. Over stepping their power is one of my peev’s. Military policing of US citizens is a real concern. Pepper spraying and tazing young kids and old people is another of my concerns. Stopping black kids in the south and breaking their arms is another. Pepole have to rise up and stop this brutality against US citizens.The CCA is getting gigantic and is attacking the people from within the country. making us one country with the record breaking incarceration of it’s people.

Posted by Bob Oleary
Thursday, May 17, 2012 11:35

It’s gonna get worse. Just looking at the above picture to the right of the article shows 3 of New York’s finest. Two are slovenly, overweight and wouldn’t pass inspection at any roll call.
The outstanding officers in any city or town have to eat it, smile at the media and back them up. They’re an embarrassment to the force.
The two that are obese in the Picture will be out on job related injured in the line of duty status which will hit us in the money pocket again. They’ll be running after someone and have a heart attack.
How many millions are taxpayers going to payout when the civil suits roll in as they are now . Either because of laziness or misinterpretation of the law they’re supposed to know.
A disappointed fan of of the police department.
PS Don’t they realize everyone has a camera today.

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