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.

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Comments on “Court Monitor Finds NYPD Still Performing Unconstitutional Stops”

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Nuff Said says:

A view from nose down on the pavement ("Get on the ground!")

The mayor (and chief of police) missed a chance a few months ago when most (or all) of the rank and file turned their backs on him/them at an official gathering/meeting.

He (they) should have dismissed them all, stipulating re-hiring only if they agreed (by signed consent) to abide by the same laws they enforced, among other stipulations. If not, hit the road… Meanwhile, bring on the new hires who scored high on common sense, courage, and a desire to serve the public rather than control, subdue, fleece, intimidate…

Much like the death rates in hospitals going DOWN on occasions when the staff goes on strike, the crime rate in NYC would likely drop if the crooked cops were ousted. I think one would be safer dealing with the “baddies” without the cops than with the cops. (I know there are good cops, the ones who rescue stranded dogs, kittens, and damsels in distress; they would NOT turn their backs on their leaders IF they were sincere.

But Nooooo. The mayor / chief didn’t seize the opportunity.

Interesting to consider than Mr. Peeler established the first organized police force in England less than 200 years ago, and how it has morphed into a power unto itself accountable to very few (if any) and a refuge to bullies and serial killers.

Perhaps some day the populace will wise up and stand up, although I would bet not in my lifetime.

Anonymous Coward says:

What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

I learned pretty much everything I need to know about cops a few years back.

I’m a middle class white guy without any criminal record. I don’t even have a parking ticket or traffic ticket. I was driving home from the office one day and was pulled over by a state cop. I had seen the cop pull out behind me in my rear view mirror, so I was obviously following the law and was driving the speed limit.

When he walked up to my window, he took my driver’s license and proof of insurance and disappeared to his cruiser. When he came back, he told me that they were patrolling to catch speeders and that “in the old days we could just write a citation to get the message across”. I was let off with a warning – for 36 mph in a 35 mph zone. I didn’t even mention the fact that my GPS said I was driving 34 mph (because I saw a marked cop car in my mirrors and made damn sure not to speed).

I would love to see oversight for cops with actual teeth. If a cop pulls over a car, detains a person or arrests a person and it cannot be proven that they have committed a crime, that cop needs to face some kind of punishment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

If a cop pulls over a car, detains a person or arrests a person and it cannot be proven that they have committed a crime, that cop needs to face some kind of punishment.

Currently, the only way to prove someone committed a crime is to take them to court, and (except under specific exceptions) it is illegal to hold a trial in absentia. Your proposed rule change would make it possible for anyone to avoid prosecution for any crime simply by refusing to receive communications from the police/justice department.

ie. The general exception to being present at your trial is if you voluntarily fail to appear. Since the police cannot detain you prior to the trial, they have no way to force you to communicate with them. Thus, by simply refusing to communicate with the police, you can never be informed of your trial date, and thus the trial can never be held.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Are you normally a pedant or only in cop threads?

I’ll explain it extremely clearly for you. If a cop is found to be pulling over, detaining and arresting people who are not later convicted of crimes (due to lack of evidence SINCE NO CRIMES WERE COMMITTED), that cop should face punishment including being fired.

I’m not arguing that the police should not have the power to pull over, detain or arrest people. I’m saying that they keep getting away with doing this to people WHO HAVE NOT COMMITTED A CRIME since there are no consequences. It’s used as an intimidation technique.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Considering the accuracy of the average speedometer, issuing a ticket for one mile per hour over the posted limit is a bit silly. In many cases the judge would dismiss the ticket, but then you have to take time out of your day to address the court because of some asshole cop.

I’m not sure if GPS is allowed as evidence in all states, but there was one case I read about years ago that it was and the ticket was dismissed as a result.

And yes – these incidences should be input to the officers performance appraisal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Welp, cops are this way because society wants them this way.

We only hear about the police state when it interferes with our pathetic lives.

We have been asking… nay… BEGGING for a police state for a while. Everyone told us slipper slopes folks that we were idiots to believe that these new laws and hard on crime policies would be used to oppress us.

Yes, this is just exactly what we asked for. Still waiting for anyone other than the racist “Black Lives Matter” movement to really say much about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Not sure who it is you think you are speaking on behalf of by the use of the word “we”, but it is a bit presumptive at best.

Perhaps “we” == corporate overlords, in this case is suppose you are correct. Just because you are not privy to all conversations and thoughts across the globe does not mean those thoughts and conversations did not occur. Wake up and smell your own bullshit victim blaming.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Lets just put it this way… if you hate what I said then you are the one of the problem people.

We are the ones never using jury nullification to prevent the tyranny of the DA & courts. We are the ones never protesting the local Mayor or Sheriff for letting police abuse their power. We are the ones that keep voting all those folks running on their “Tough on Crime” platforms. WE ARE THE ONE LETTING GOVERNMENT RAPE OUR LIBERTY!

You are THE PROBLEM… you vote in the problem and then have the flapping nerve to act like you are not responsible? You are responsible every time you sit back on your ass and do nothing when a person is abused by the system. You are responsible every time you play the party game. You are responsible every time you seek to avoid jury duty. You are responsible every time you attempt to escape blame just like you are now.


Every nation gets the government it deserves.

Blaming shit on corporate overlords is just your way of acting like a coward and refusing to accept responsibility for you part in all of this. We could easily bring them to heal as soon as YOU and the rest of those bastard repukes & demtards get their heads out of their asses!


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Unlike you, I learned that I had a problem. You still run around thinking you don’t have a problem and even worse refuse to accept that you are part of the problem.

It will not be possible to help you and the vast majority of Americans on both sides of the party isle until they get their heads out of their asses.

Were you looking for an autograph or something? I am sure you can get one if you just go and buy something from his campaign.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Every nation gets the government it deserves.

When corporations fund the parties and candidates, and a few media organization choose which parties and candidates to cover, do the people really get to choose their government, or are they restricted to selecting from a pool of candidates chosen by others?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

You have already given up it seems. Those corporations and organizations want you to think that it is impossible and that you have no voice so that you will shut up and sit down.

I don’t think anyone needs you as a fellow citizen. You really have not even been greatly accosted and you have are already willing to give up helping your fellow citizens.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

GPS is not accurate enough for a court of law. Civilian GPS is deliberately incorrect — errors are injected into results to prevent it from being used to commit terrorist acts like setting up mortar fields of fire, I guess. In any case, you’d lose that fight.

Radar equipment is calibrated on each shift by the officer running the radar unit. If you want to call that into question, make sure you know your math really well and have a solid, unique attack because judges have seen and heard them all. You will most definitely need to appeal it a few times to get heard — muni judges will routinely announce that they will not entertain indictments against the technology.

Getting off with a warning should not outrage you. If you were black, you’d have gotten a ticket at the very least. Enjoy your white privilege. BTW, all Anonymous Cowards are white people to me.

You’ll never ever ever get a cop in trouble for investigating something that looks wrong to them. Never. It’s called “probable” cause for a reason, and you don’t get to indict it unless you attend an academy and get instructed on it. You’re just operating from ignorance.

And that’s fine. Techdirt is an interesting site for me, but it’s comically anti-cop and shockingly ill-informed about law enforcement in general. So, I do what I can to tell you people you suck at this, just to balance it out.


John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

“Civilian GPS is deliberately incorrect”

This used to be true, but they stopped doing this years ago. Now the way it works is that civilian GPS and military GPS have the same amount of accuracy, but the US gov can flip a switch to turn the randomization back in specific areas. They do this to degrade the civilian GPS in battlefields.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Techdirt is an interesting site for me, but it’s comically anti-cop and shockingly ill-informed about law enforcement in general. So, I do what I can to tell you people you suck at this, just to balance it out.

TD is as anti-bad-cops as good cops are ignoring bad cops. TD’s posted many articles lauding good cops using the law and tech smartly. Bad cops stories are big news though, so stand out. Cops aren’t supposed to be bad, you know!

You suck at this, insufferably so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Not sure what rock you’ve been under, but a simple seach using your favorite tool returns many links, some to same sight, in which it details the adventures of those who used GPS to successfully refute the issued speeding ticket.

You can rant & rave, make all the accusations you want but it does not change what actually happens. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions – not their own facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What constitutes an unconstitutional stop?

Getting off with a warning should not outrage you.

Well you’re right about that.

Personally, I’d be outraged that I was pulled over for 36 in a 35 to begin with. It takes an exceptionally useless idiot to try and justify that in the name of public safety.

Then again, would YOU want to be the cop who has to show up in court and testify on record for such a grievous offense?
I’m sure it’d be great for your career – you can tell everyone about all the lives you’ve saved!

What a joke. This right here is why the general public hates you.

DigDug says:

Easy Fix

Undercover Feds go in, wander around, and when the criminals try to pull their stop and frisk activity, boom – under arrest, thrown in the federal pen, throwaway the keys.

One hopes that Karma isn’t too harsh on them, or we’ll see a few of them resist arrest as well, and get their faces caved in, get shot in the back, or tazed to death.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cant wait to tell everyone about their new unconstitutional toy, but surprise, surprise, drag their feet when it comes to receeding what most definately needs rescinding

Their grabbing on to their new toy as hard as they can in the hopes the parent will give in and let them have it back

I.e……keep doing it, less obviously, over an extended period of time, until people are conditioned enough, used to it, that they give in, rinse repeat………thats totally representational

Eldakka (profile) says:

NYPD should be required to advertise

If the NYPD isn’t informing it’s own officers of the judgement and it’s requirements, maybe the Judge should order the NYPD to conduct an advertising campaign, at its own expense, to inform both its staff and the public of NY about the (il)legality of the stop and frisk procedure and what the public’s rights and complaints procedures are.

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