Former Police Chief Defends NYPD's 'Stop And Frisk' Program, Because It Has A Checklist

from the meanwhile,-certain-commanders-seem-to-be-encouraging-profiling dept

NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” program has never really been considered “constitutional” by anyone involved on either side of the law. In fact, certain elements of the stop-and-frisk program have already been ruled unconstitutional (making trespass stops outside residential buildings). But a case currently underway (Floyd v. City of New York) is hoping to prove that the NYPD’s program violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Since 2002, the NYPD has performed these “street interrogations” over 4 million times. The end result? Nearly nine out of ten “suspects” have been completely innocent, and this is according to the NYPD’s own reports. In addition, an overwhelming percentage of those stopped have been minorities. (Stops of whites hovers around 11% of the total.)

Not only are the NYPD’s numbers damning in their own right, but NYPD officer testimony alleges that the department pressures officers with a quotas (20 summonses + 1 arrest per officer per month — a.k.a. “20 and one”), something many states have recognized as creating perverse incentives and have outlawed accordingly. (Of course, this just leads to police departments utilizing other terms, like “productivity” or “benchmarks” or “performance goals.”) Secret recordings even caught a commanding officer stating explicitly who patrol officers were supposed to target with the stop-and-frisk program: “I told you at roll call, and I have no problem telling you this, male blacks 14 to 20, 21.”

Recently retired police chief Joseph Esposito was called to testify in the Floyd v. City of New York case and Scott Greenfield noticed a rather interesting exchange between the chief and the presiding judge. After Esposito played to part of the crowd for a bit, mentioning the 40% reduction in crime and saluting his sergeants as the “best in the world,” he answered a few questions directly related to the stop-and-frisk program.

Mr. Esposito also put much stock in the paperwork that officers must fill out after each street stop. That form includes numerous check boxes, each describing behavior that might lead to a stop, like “furtive movements” or “actions indicative of casing.”

Mr. Esposito insisted that a supervisor could conclude that a stop was legal based on reviewing that form alone.

“If it’s filled out properly, it gives you reasonable suspicion. And if you have reasonable suspicion established, then you do not have racial profiling,” Mr. Esposito said. “It’s as simple as that.”

(Here’s a copy of that form, usually referred to as a “250” form [UF-250] despite the fact that its form number is 344-151A.)


That’s an interesting rationale. And not just the fact that Esposito believes “reasonable suspicion” can be entirely unyoked from “racial profiling.” It’s not as if narratives (and their corresponding paperwork) have never been altered to justify racially motivated actions.

But the worst part of this rationale is how little it takes for an officer to “establish” reasonable suspicion, and how the NYPD seems to prefer it that way.

A checklist. The holy grail of grocery clerks. Check off a few boxes and, bingo, reasonable suspicion is established. “It’s as simple as that.”

[T]his… testimony… provides the deepest understanding of the failure to grasp what’s at risk when cops roam the street under the leadership of a guy like Espo.

With his three stars, he was a “near-mythic figure” in the NYPD. Yet on the witness stand, he revealed himself to be an errand boy for grocery store clerks, who thought a checklist was real. “It’s as simple as that.” They so adore checklists. Check the right boxes and all is well with the world. There is no better proof than a checklist.

As Greenfield says, this is what’s presiding over New Yorker’s constitutional rights — a set of checkboxes so vague any person could be considered “reasonably suspicious.”

Fortunately, the judge was underwhelmed by Eposito’s “star power” and his affection for reasonable-suspicion-via-checklist. Her response points out just how broadly written the form is and how easily it can be abused.

But Judge Scheindlin appeared skeptical that the paperwork proved anything.

“Any officer can check off ‘high-crime area’ and ‘furtive movements,’ ” Judge Scheindlin said, referring to two check-box categories on the stop-and-frisk form. “You really don’t know much about the stop, looking at the form, do you?”

No. You really can’t tell much by looking at the form. And like all paperwork, it’s usually filled out after someone has already been shoved against a wall for walking in a high crime area. The department’s own stats show that 9 out of 10 times, nothing illegal is happening. But yet the practice persists, failing to do anything more than assert control over the populace with systemic harassment sporting a gaudy 90% failure rate.

The number of stops dropped 20% last year (from its 2011 peak), suggesting a couple of things are happening. Either batting .100 isn’t sitting well with some officers or the form itself is slowing down the process of establishing reasonable suspicion. Below is one of the forms the NYPD is reportedly* considering using to replace the inefficient, two-page “250” form.


*Actually not considering this completely made-up form at all.

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Comments on “Former Police Chief Defends NYPD's 'Stop And Frisk' Program, Because It Has A Checklist”

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34 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

Now it’s the chicken and egg dilemma: did the TSA plagiarize the NYPD or the contrary? The TSA has more refined guidelines truth to be said. They have to stop pretty girls. I definitely wouldn’t want to do cavity searches with 14 to 20, 21 black males*.

*no prejudice meant, I’m just that heterosexual and my gf is black which makes us a nice coffee and milk mixture 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

Not to mention Stop and Frisk is destroying the NYPD’s reputation with an entire generation of teenagers and young people, stopping and frisking for no reason at all.

If you look at the population numbers by race in the city, and the numbers by race of people stopped under stop and frisk, the numbers are even more disturbing.

MORE black/Hispanic/other minority groups of that age range are stopped and frisked a year in NYC then LIVE in NYC.

Anonymous Coward says:

?If it?s filled out properly, it gives you reasonable suspicion. And if you have reasonable suspicion established, then you do not have racial profiling,? Mr. Esposito said. ?It?s as simple as that.?

It’s not as simple as that. Even if reasonable suspicion exists in every single one of those cases, it’s STILL racial profiling if they do NOT stop everyone who exhibits the same behavior. And the form has no way of showing that.

Not to mention the condition of “if it’s filled out properly”. As if an officer who is willing to frisk someone for no reason isn’t going to be willing to fudge on the form. Especially when the form helpfully tells them exactly where they “must” check a box. Never mind what actually happened; here’s what we need you to claim happened.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Self deportation....

I think we are doing the NYPD a grave disservice. Their intent is obvious.

They are not trying to abuse anyone’s civil liberties, nor as some people incorrectly assume are they trying to stop crime (that’s why they 10% guilty rate doesn’t faze them).

They are simply taking Arizona’s version of now disavowed republican taking points regarding illegal immigration and putting it into action.

The obvious goal of this policy is to get _undesirable_ groups (i.e minorities, esp. blacks age 14-21) to “self deport”. Make life so miserable for the _undesirables_ that they will leave New York of their own accord.

The fact that most of these people are native born American citizens and have no other country to actually go to isn’t a problem. The NYPD don’t care if they never leave the country, just as long as they leave New York City.

Now that that’s cleared up, doesn’t it make much more sense?

[not that I think it’s a good idea or anything, just trying to clear things up. ;> ]

AJ says:

?If it?s filled out properly, it gives you reasonable suspicion. And if you have reasonable suspicion established, then you do not have racial profiling,? Mr. Esposito said. ?It?s as simple as that.?

Sooo.. I make a form, let’s call it the “Reasonable Suspician of Breast Cancer” … if filled out properly, it gives me “reasonable suspicion” to stop and grope?… and because “reasonable suspicion” has been established, it’s not “sexual harassment/assault”? If the TSA finds out about this, were all screwed….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I can see this now. Someone is going to go out and start filming the police and when the cop takes exception to being filmed, the guy will whip out a piece of paper and comedic gold will be captured.

“You see officer, I had to film you because I have this checklist here and it says that if I see any of these things occur in public, it is my duty to film it for release it on Youtube.”

Anonymous Coward says:

My question is...

What idiot thought publicly having such a policy (not to mention naming it that) was a good idea? Why didn’t they just come out and call “The Fourth Amendment stops here”? The practice isn’t by any means new and happens in police departments pretty much everywhere. It’s just that they don’t publicly come out and say “Yeah we not only condone this, we want to encourage it.” Furthermore, with all the high end ad agencies in NYC, they couldn’t hire one to come up with an creative way to try to spin it as a good thing? Really? They didn’t even TRY.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: My question is...

What I meant was to blatantly put forth a very public policy that is so obviously an affront to the 4th amendment, you would think that they would have at least TRIED to spin it somehow so that it looked like a good thing. At least Congress tried to polish the Patriot Act by attaching the word “patriot” to it. But no they just whipped it out and flaunt it with arrogance then have the gaul to pretend surprised when people get pissed off about it. Amazing.

Anonymous Coward says:

So going by the instructions on the new form to legally stop and frisk (without using any free spaces or ‘attractive bulge’), these allow a stop and frisk:

1)a black guy whistling and pimp walking… (3 in a row across the top)

2)possible possession of a cell phone, furtive movements, and the officer in a lousy mood (3 in a row)

3)Black (or spanish) person jaywalking at night (4 random – uses both walking and jaywalking)

4)Officer in a lousy mood, at night, walking, potentially with a cellphone (4 random – works for anyone)

Idk who I should be more afraid of, the TSA or NYPD. At least the TSA stay in the airports and aren’t in the whole city when they feel you up…

Rich Fiscus (profile) says:

Fixed that for you

It looks like there’s a typo on that form – the real one I mean. The UF clearly should be FU.

On a more serious note, at least as serious as one can be about such a retarded argument, using the chief’s logic I should be able to rob as many banks as I want by simply filling out a checklist afterward and checking items like, “no gun used” and “any property taken was actually mine.” I don’t think there are any laws saying my word isn’t just as good as theirs after all.

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