Last summer, the NYPD began using a new stop-report form to better document what happens when officers make the stops that are the first third of the infamous stop, question, and frisk.
The new paperwork is part of reforms mandated by the 2013 court case which placed the city in remediation over its stop-and-frisk policy through which particular neighborhoods and particular residents, mostly black and Hispanic males, were subjected to intense and often suspicion-less scrutiny by police officers.
The paperwork is meant to be filled out when officers make a stop, and can also be a “teaching tool” to underscore the proper standards for stop, question, and frisk.
Over the summer, the pilot program experimented with different-sized forms, for ease of transit by officers on the beat. But the instructions were all the same.
But once the police department started to evaluate the program, it found that 28 percent of the forms analyzed didn’t “properly articulate reasonable suspicion for the stop.”
What the new report shows
This discovery, part of the second report from court-ordered monitor Peter Zimroth, a former corporation counsel for New York City, underscored the difficulties that remain in the city’s attempt to reform a basic element of policing that mutated into something else entirely — something unconstitutional.
According to the report, the number of stops appears to have plummeted in recent years, beginning at the tail end of the last administration — from 685,724 in 2011 to about 24,000 last year.
But the report shows that problems persist with the stops that do occur, as well as with the proper documentation of those stops.
The report acknowledges the advances in training and revised directives coming from high levels of the department, but it notes that many rank-and-file officers still aren’t clear on the new requirements, which more explicitly lay out the rules for police stops, prohibiting and preventing racial bias. The report also found that direct supervisors aren’t always holding officers accountable for the required changes.
A good example comes from the pilot program, during which supervisors routinely rubber-stamped the forms, even when they weren’t filled out correctly. And in a “significant number” of stops, no receipt was given to a person who was stopped but not arrested, a reform meant to provide some rationale for a stop that led to nothing, attempting in a small way to mend relations between communities and their police.
Questioning stop, question, and frisk
Some advocates urge that the reform go beyond stop, question, and frisk.
“I would hope that the lessons learned here in this narrow stop-and-frisk context will be applied to other aspects of NYPD operations,” says Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which was involved in a related suit. Lieberman points to use of force and enforcement of low-level offenses.
Even when it was far more prevalent, stop-and-frisk didn’t result in a large number of arrests. Easing the overuse of stop-and-frisk is a positive for many people’s daily experience, but it doesn’t slow over-criminalization.
Bob Gangi of the Police Reform Organizing Project mentioned the case of a homeless man whose arraignment he’d observed as part of a PROP court monitoring project on Tuesday night. The man had been arrested for taking up multiple seats on a nighttime subway car.
Gangi says the man was visibly “having withdrawals from alcoholism.” The man was released with an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal and could have used medical care, but went off into the night again after his encounter with the criminal justice system.
“I’m just going to ride the trains,” he told Gangi.
When “question” wasn’t even part of the title, stop-and-frisk was an almost surreal experience for members of affected communities, who were subjected to daily contact with law enforcement on their way to school, supermarkets, subways, or work.
The policy has become symbolic of aggressive and disruptive police strategies — and its supposed abandonment a supposed success. That success, we can see from the measured report, is still in process.
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