by David Cruz
Mayor Bill de Blasio promised, and now he’s delivered.
In what was a major campaign pledge during de Blasio’s road to Gracie Mansion, the city will now settle two class-action lawsuits over the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk, a decision that sends ripples through a public that grew distant from the police.
The controversial practice had for years eroded relationships between police and minority communities, with Bronxites claiming it was an intentional form of racial profiling. The lawsuits— Floyd v. City of New York and Ligon v. City of New York—were largely different, yet at its core examined the constitutionality of the tactic. While the first claimed the NYPD racial profiled, the latter asked whether the NYPD’s Clean Halls program violated civil rights. Under the terms of the settlement, the city would install an independent NYPD inspector general to review the tactic for a period of three years. City officials also agreed to police reforms with input from stakeholders, putting the police under greater scrutiny.
Both cases were presided over by Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who ultimately ruled the policy in both stop-and-frisk cases violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Her decision in the Floyd case was reversed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which also removed her from both cases claiming she may have personally shown bias before hearing the cases.
Proponents of stop-and-frisk have defended the practice for years, emphasizing that the tactic was a deterrent that’s saved lives. It was a stance Mayor Bloomberg maintained throughout his mayoral tenure. But de Blasio’s proposed settlement is not a done deal. Police unions have until Feb. 7 to file motions objecting to the city’s deal. City lawyers have until Feb. 14 to respond.
Still, de Blasio called his decision a “defining moment for millions of our families, especially those with young men of color.” The policy resonates more personally for de Blasio, the head of a bi-racial family. During his campaign, the mayor mentioned several times that his mixed-race son Dante could be stopped and frisked at one point in his lifetime.
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., whose borough showed the second highest number of stop-and-frisk incidents in the city during 2011, said the policy had “driven a wedge between the police and our communities…” He hopes the move will now create an atmosphere where people are treated respectfully.
Stop-and-Frisk in the Bronx
Stop-and-frisk remained a lead hot button issue in the Bronx, a borough that’s inspired murals on the practice along with the dual suits. The case was sparked after David Floyd, an African-American man, was stopped and frisked by police after attempting to open his apartment door in what police thought was a burglary. The genesis of the Ligon case also started in the Bronx, after plaintiffs claimed the Clean Halls program—where development managers allowed officers to patrol buildings to stop any apartment dwellers—gave police too much carte blanche in stopping passersby.
For each incident, officers are required to file UF-250 Forms for statistical gathering. In 2012, the number of stop-and-frisk incidents began to steadily drop, according to figures compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union, one of the NYPD’s harshest critics. In all, there were 59,104 stops in 2012, of which 4756 resulted in arrest and 2980 in summonses. Of that number, 57,060 were either black or Hispanic.
Public Service Area 8, a division of the NYPD assigned to housing developments within the 43rd, 45th and 47th precincts, saw the highest number of stop-and-frisk incidents with 7,315. Meanwhile, the 44th Precinct covering the Grand Concourse, Mt. Eden and Highbridge, saw the highest number of stop-and-frisk incidents for a Bronx stationhouse, reaching 6,262. The 52nd Precinct, covering Norwood, Kingsbridge, Fordham and Bedford Park ranked 7 out of 15 Bronx stationhouses in the number of stop-and-frisk cases in the Bronx.
The numbers are sharply lower from 2011 when a total of 89,105 people were stopped and frisked in the Bronx, according to NYPD statistics compiled by the NYCLU. Of that number, 80,629 were either black or Hispanic. The 2012 numbers suggest that the then NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was making attempts to decrease the tactic, heeding the call by an outraged public to tone down the number of stops.
Whether this shift in tone will promote a friendlier relationship between police and public remains to be seen. While the policy will unlikely be phased out, experts suspect a more watered-down version of the tactic will result.
“You’re seeing a suppressed force where they’re not going to go out for fear of lack of support from this administration,” said Monroe College Criminal Justice Professor Rob Gibbons, who retired as an NYPD lieutenant for the Detective Squad. In his estimate, a revision of stop-and-frisk, along with an exodus of retired officers and withdrawal of rookies from Operation Impact Zones could cause crime to spike.
Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch blasted the decision, suggesting the process would hinder officers from doing their job. “Our goal is to continue to be involved in the process in order to give voice to our members and to make every effort to ensure that their rights are protected,” said Lynch.
–Additional reporting by Justin McCallum