After months of Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defending the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program against a growing chorus of critics, the police department has agreed to make a few changes — nominally, at least. The move comes after a judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit alleging that the practice, which affects mostly blacks and Hispanics, is racially discriminatory. In a letter to City Council Speaker and mayoral favorite Christine Quinn, Kelly said there will also be more oversight, training, and outreach to prevent racial profiling.
That includes informational cards meant to explain “the legal authority for such stops” (although some version of these already exist), as well as a new training video for cops, and a program meant to engage with “the typically small group of people within a community or neighborhood who are responsible for the majority of violent crime.” Kelly’s order states, “Members of the service are reminded that the NYPD is committed to the impartial enforcement of law and the protection of constitutional rights.”
Quinn called the tweaks “an important step forward,” but said “more must be done to significantly reduce the number of stops and to bridge the divide between the NYPD and the communities they serve.” There were more than 600,000 last year, 600 percent more than when Bloomberg started as mayor, and so far this year, the number is already over 200,000. As part of Kelly’s announcement today, though, executive officers at every precinct will be required to review every stop-and-frisk report, the Village Voice reports, which could bring those numbers down some.
“You have to acknowledge the problem before you find solutions,” City Councilman Jumaane Williams, a vocal critic of stop-and-frisk, told Daily Intel this afternoon. “I’m happy they finally acknowledged there’s an issue, but they need to explicitly say that this program is not working. I think it’s a good step, a small victory for those who have been pushing, but we definitely have a long way to go because they still believe what they’re doing is effective. Maybe now we can have a dialogue.”
The NYCLU isn’t buying it at all. “It’s clear the police commissioner is feeling political pressure around the NYPD’s abusive stop-and-frisk program, but this response is nothing more than a desperate public relations attempt,” said executive director Donna Lieberman. “The mayor and commissioner need to give up the spin and recognize that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program is fundamentally broken. The NYPD is out of control, and the culture and practices of the Department need a full-scale overhaul so that the fundamental rights of all New Yorkers are respected and all communities can trust and respect the police.” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer also called Kelly’s letter a “public relations gambit” that “does not honestly address a policing crisis which is dividing this city.”
“It is being depicted as ‘a misunderstanding by the troops in the field, or nefarious conduct by the troops in the field,’ and not as, ‘We at One Police Plaza are searching our conscience and trying to find ways to make policy changes,’” Eugene J. O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told the Times. “It skirts all of the issues that were raised by the judge.”
In the ruling yesterday, the judge charged the NYPD with being “cavalier” and showing “a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.” If nothing else, Kelly’s move today hopes to change the conversation from one of disregard to one of reconciliation.