Court Monitor Finds NYPD Still Performing Unconstitutional Stops
from the trickledown-don'tgiveashitness dept
Surprise, surprise! The NYPD is less enthusiastic about telling its officers to restrain themselves than it is about letting them off their leashes.
The NYPD has lightened up on its use of stop-and-frisk, but unconstitutional stops persist because cops don’t know about reforms, according to a federal monitor’s report released Tuesday.
“Many police officers, including supervisors, are not well informed as yet about the changes underway or the reasons for them and, therefore, have yet to internalize them,” said monitor Peter Zimroth in court papers to Manhattan Federal Judge Analisa Torres.
“Many appear not to understand what is expected of them,” wrote Zimroth, who was appointed in August 2013 to oversee stop-and-frisk reforms. He called for better communication throughout the department.
The NYPD is more in its element when it’s creating terrorism/dissent-focused task forces or shipping its officers halfway around the word to get in the way of local investigators. What it’s less interested in doing is ensuring its officers live up to the Constitutional expectations of Judge Shira Scheindlin’s order from nearly three years ago.
While it’s true that the number of SQFs (Stop, Question and Frisk) is down considerably since its pre-lawsuit heyday, NYPD officers are still performing searches that don’t live up to the constraints of the court order, thanks to the hands-off approach apparently deployed by their superiors.
The court-appointed monitor also noted the Citizen Complaint Review Board isn’t providing much in the way of accountability, despite its moniker.
“One issue identified by the monitor is that allegations of racial or other profiling allegations made to the CCRB but not the NYPD are not being investigated by either the CCRB or the department,” the report said.
The more things are ordered to be changed, the more they stay the same. Those defending the NYPD’s newfound, court-enforced “respect” for the Fourth Amendment often point to the precipitous drop in stops as evidence officers are following the new rules. The problem is, those numbers don’t mean what the defenders claim they mean. Lower numbers aren’t necessarily reflective of successful reform efforts, as Brooklyn attorney Ken Womble points out at Mimesis Law.
The declaration that from 2011 to 2014, “street stops” by the NYPD went from almost 700,000 down to 46,000 is a bit tough to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, I wish this were true. But quite honestly, I feel like I would have noticed long before the New York Times brought it to my attention.
Where did these numbers come from?
Data Sources: Division of Criminal Justice Services for Felony and Misdemeanor Arrests, New York City Police Department for Stops, and Office of Court Administration for Criminal Summonses.
Is it possible that the numbers provided by the NYPD to John Jay College were accurate? Technically, yes. But a look deeper into the actual data shows that it is much more likely (almost certain) that the NYPD’s reported rates of stop and frisk over the last ten or so years have had little connection to reality.
As Womble notes, the steepest drop in stops occurred while Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly were still running the show — both of whom dissolved into apoplexy when Judge Scheindlin declared the program mostly unconstitutional.
If the stop and frisk numbers are accurate, then Kelly and the NYPD slashed stop and frisk from a high of 203,500 in the first quarter of 2012, down to 99,788 in the first quarter of 2013, all the way down to a paltry 21,187 in the 3rd quarter of 2013, well before Judge Sheindlin told them to stop.
So, despite there being no ruling in place, stops were already dropping. And they have continued to drop, even without clear guidance being handed down from above. Womble points out that while the number of stops has fallen off a cliff, the NYPD’s arrest numbers have stayed steady. Considering the number of nearly-suspicionless stops has dropped from nearly 600,000 a year to less than 46,000 (in 2014), one would expect a dramatic drop in arrests. But that hasn’t happened. Womble speculates the stops are still occurring. The only thing that’s changed is the paper trail.
The NYPD counts “stop” data via “Unified Form 250” which should be filled out any time an officer has a “street encounter” with a civilian that involves stop, search or arrest. So, what happens if a cop stops someone and doesn’t fill out one of these forms? Nothing. Nothing at all.
Which is exactly what the court-appointed monitor discovered last summer.
Zimroth cited NYPD internal audits at 19 precincts that found “a number of instances where it appeared likely that a stop was conducted but there was no or improper documentation,” he wrote.
And, again, the problem was the NYPD’s apparent reluctance to issue clear guidance for its officers.
The monitor referenced conversations with beat cops and their supervisors indicating some officers opted to abandon the approach because they were “not confident or have been misinformed about… what they are authorized to under the law,” he wrote.
Add this to the toothless Complaint Review Board — one that refuses to perform its sole function — and New York citizens are likely still being unconstitutionally stopped and saddled with bogus arrests. The problem may express itself at the street level, but the real problem is way above beat cops in the organization chart. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs in the stop-and-frisk lawsuit, points out that change starts at the top — and so far, there’s no evidence that’s happening.
“We have long argued that you can write the best policies in the world and have the best training in the world, but unless and until there is commitment to reform at all levels of leadership, little will change,” CCR said.
The lack of guidance suggests those up top are staying the course and leaving it up to individual officers to interpret the stop-and-frisk order as they see fit. For some, this simply means performing fewer stops. For far more, it appears standard operating procedure is to not fill out paperwork if the stop seems borderline. And with little to no guidance from above, the drop in recorded stops suggests a majority of stops performed are still on the wrong side of the Constitution. But with stop documentation being a closed loop guarded by the NYPD, the only evidence anyone has is a steep drop in stops that only suggests rules no one has issued are being followed.