NYPD Using 'Nuisance Abatement' Law To Force Small Businesses To Install Cameras, Agree To Warrantless Searches

from the the-law-with-built-in-'speed-holes' dept

Sarah Ryley at ProPublica has a fascinating, depressing, and exhaustive report on the NYPD's apparent ongoing civil rights abuses. Under the guise of policing "nuisance businesses," certain precincts are targeting minority-owned businesses -- usually small bodegas, laundromats, etc. -- with abatement actions that force owners to either lose their source of income or capitulate to the NYPD's overreaching demands.

One business owner was hit with a "nuisance abatement" action -- one which could lead to his laundromat being closed for at least 30 days -- after undercover officers twice sold stolen goods to store customers. Sung Cho's laundromat had nothing to do with either sale, other than being open for business when the sales were made. Despite Cho's lack of culpability in the selling of stolen goods, the NYPD portrayed his business as a "facilitator" of illegal activity and hit his store with a restraining order.

As Ryley reports, the nuisance abatement program is prone to abuse, what with its one-sided court process (NYPD files complaint and asks for restraining orders without notifying the business owner or allowing them to challenge the orders) and very loose definition of "facilitation." While the statute does provide that business owners must be given a chance to challenge an order within three business days of being presented with it, the NYPD routinely serves orders on Thursday or Friday, forcing businesses to close over the weekend, normally their busiest sales days.

The article points out that most of these orders are served by officers in precincts where the minority population is the majority, suggesting once again that the NYPD regularly engages in biased policing. A judge who has presided over abatement cases lends some credence to this conclusion.

“You never see the white bar owner from the Meatpacking District in here; it’s always some bodega owner from Uptown,” said the judge, who asked not to be named. “It’s a complete double standard.”
In terms more familiar to Techdirt's audience, nuisance abatement enforcement is nothing more than law enforcement trolling.
Once served with nuisance abatement actions, business owners are faced with a choice. They can fight the case and remain shut down until it’s resolved, earning no income. Or they can agree to the NYPD’s demands, sign a settlement, and reopen. As a result, cases tend to get resolved very quickly.
When not using sales of stolen goods to customers to push nuisance abatement actions, the NYPD also likes to use sales of alcohol to minors as leverage -- despite the fact there's an entire arm of enforcement as well as a separate government agency in place to deal with liquor license violations. As Ryley points out, doubling up on enforcement allows the city to punish business owners twice for these violations. And some of the busts are highly questionable. The ProPublica piece contains footage of a contested sting "buy:" a two-second "interaction" in a busy convenience store where the undercover buyer obscured the beer can with his hand and tossed a dollar at a clerk who was in the middle of handling another customer's transaction.

The ends here appears to be the expansion of the NYPD's already-robust surveillance powers. The laundromat owner faced with losing his business agreed to the PD's "settlement offer" -- one that gave the NYPD uninterrupted, warrantless access to his place of business.
He agreed to pay a $2,000 fine, maintain cameras that the NYPD can access at any time, and to allow the police to conduct warrantless searches. If anyone is even accused of breaking the law at his business again — whether a store employee or not — he faces escalating penalties: closures that would increase from 30 days to 60 days to 90 days to a full year with each alleged offense; fines climbing as high as $15,000.

Perhaps most damaging of all, the terms continue in perpetuity, even if the business changes hands.
This isn't an aberration. This is the standard operating procedure. Other businesses facing NYPD abatement orders have not only installed cameras and agreed to warrantless searches, but have also put $1000 credit card readers in place that store personally-identifiable info on every customer that uses them -- and which all can be accessed anytime by police officers without a warrant.

An NYPD official contacted by ProPublica isn't shy about the desire to expand the NYPD's surveillance dragnet.
Robert Messner, who heads the NYPD’s Civil Enforcement Unit, which handles the cases, said during an interview with the Daily News in December that his unit does not keep a database of the businesses required to maintain cameras. He said their purpose is to make neighborhoods safer and to help police solve crimes.

“We want everybody to install cameras. We think that’s the greatest,” he said.
He's also not afraid to say why he prefers nuisance abatement proceedings to other statutes the NYPD has at its disposal to handle these sorts of "problems."
When asked about the Padlock Law in December, Messner said the last case filed under it was “15 years ago maybe.”

He said the padlock law “was a creaky old law” that cost a lot of police resources and often resulted in protracted litigation.

“This thing,” Messner said, referring to the nuisance abatement law, “is simple and elegant.”
Yes, there's nothing more "simple and elegant" than greasing your own wheels. The "Padlock Law" -- instituted during Bill Bratton's first run at the top of the NYPD -- allowed business owners to contest the orders and allegations in court before being threatened with a business closure. The new way -- now more than 15 years old -- deprives business owners of any meaningful form of due process, which makes it much easier to use the threat of a business shutdown to coerce owners into providing the NYPD with 24-hour warrantless access and a larger surveillance footprint.

Filed Under: nuisance abatement, nypd, small businesses, surveillance, warrantless searches


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 3:32am

    When will people start calling NYPD the blue shirts?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ryunosuke (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 4:51am

      was gonna say....

      it seems DAILY that the USA has been invaded, occupied, and subject to laws that, quite frankly, piss on the graves of EVERYONE who has died for her.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 12:02pm

      Re:

      I have been for years now especially when they do their police rally's and march in the streets with their jackboots just like their idols

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    art guerrilla (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 4:04am

    and i bet dollars to donut holes...

    ...that such power is nebber ebber abused and something along the lines of:
    'hey, this is a nice bodega here, be a shame if us donut eaters had to shut it down for being, well, a nice neighborhood bodega...'
    and $50-100 changes hands and the bodega is not shut down...
    ...this week
    bet that nebber, ebber happens...
    at this point, i think us 99% would be better off with ZERO police...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Paul Renault (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 4:10am

    They want to the store owners to install cameras..

    ..so they'll know where they are and will know which ones to knock out. They've learned from the Sky High Collective pot dispensary in Santa Ana.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTKTfUHfeKM&feature=youtu.be

    If you are force-armed to install some cameras, make sure you install a redundant system with some pinhole lenses in the walls. Feed the video and sound to a local amateurish-looking cache (a laptop running a VM?) and copy it to the cloud; if the cops find the local copy, they might stop looking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 2 May 2016 @ 4:14am

    Nuisance abatement?

    Where would the NYPD be if there were truth in advertising? Quite abated, I say.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 4:16am

    So blackmail and abuse of power.
    Something is clearly wrong when they can spin around with a blindfold and just point to a random business and go "I want that next". Of course they can find something illegal when they are doing the illegalities.
    This is like the "protection money" racket... Mafia boys in blue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rolly Mingwald, 2 May 2016 @ 4:22am

      Re:

      Hey, it's just the cost of doing buisness in NY, right? I mean, if you aren't doing anything wrong, you got nothing to hide? And, the blue shirts are the good guys- nothing bad happens to the good guys, 'cause they keep the terrists away.

      /S

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ben Gahzi, 2 May 2016 @ 4:16am

    The NYPD, degrading the motto "to serve and protect"

    to "to unnerve and convict."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 4:24am

    Terminology

    While the article uses the term 'Law enforcement trolling', it looks like a more accurate term is extortion. Using http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/extortion, the definition is

    The obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.

    While most dictionaries list extortion as the taking of property, requiring a service also counts, especially if there is also a fine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 4:43am

    It looks like mafia tactics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 2 May 2016 @ 4:45am

    Those sales of stolen goods happened within the City of New York! The City is facilitating criminal activity and needs to be shut down immediately. We should be dragging the Mayor into court to explain himself as to why crime is allowed to happen within the city limits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 7:33am

      Re:

      How does that work anyway? Does NYPD steal property from others to use in stings or is NYPD failing to return stolen property to its rightful owner so that it can set up other people to arrest or is NYPD somehow allowed to simply pretend that the property is stolen when it really isn't?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 4:49am

    ACLU? Hello? Hello?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 5:26am

    when are people going to wise up to the fact that regardless of what they do, what Congress does and what judges do to bring laws in that protect the people and their property from abuse, the security forces and more often than not NYPD, find or have found for them by whatever lawyers that are on retainers, any and every way possible to bypass those protections so they can do and get whatever the hell they like! and what makes this so annoying is that when anyone stands up to the force in question at the time, those same lawyers find ways that stop the ones being searched/punished to NOT be able to get any come back?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 5:34am

    Stop and Frisk was just the begining

    Once you have started thinking of everyone else as bad guys, little things like laws are just in the way. This way, the police get to force people to give up privacy and pay for it themselves. If you have a problem with it, clearly you have something to hide. If their preemptive search of your person fails to find anything incriminating, don't worry, they have a backup plan.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JD, 2 May 2016 @ 5:54am

    Map of warrantless surveillance stores?

    I wonder if the public could get court records identifying the businesses forced to install these systems. I, for one, wouldn't want to shop at stores where all of my information could be grabbed without a warrant...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 5:57am

    How is this NOT a "protection racket" by NYPD? NYPD needs to be hit with a RICO indictment. Seriously, this is mob sh*t.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 6:00am

    Now You're Powned Department

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Three Pipe Problem, 2 May 2016 @ 6:13am

    Is it naive...

    Is it naive to ask why some of the victims don't sue the police after the fact?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 6:49am

      Re: Is it naive...

      How do they pay for their lawyers when the police have seized their assets as the proceeds of crime?
      When a police force starts abusing its power have the upper hand.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 6:32am

    And the sad thing is that when some business owner decides to actually challenge them they'll quickly settle to make it go away and keep doing it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    kehvan (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 8:04am

    Blue city blues.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 8:17am

    NYPD are like the mafia demanding payment. Except they dont have to run away after they shot you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 9:03am

    “We want everybody to install cameras. We think that’s the greatest,” he said.*

    *Every body except a police officer's body.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 9:19am

      Re:

      But of course. Forcing someone to place cameras that can be accessed at any time in their place of business is perfectly fine, nothing to get worked up over. Having cameras record 'officers' while on business(whether on their body or held by someone else) is a horrible violation of privacy, takes work to sort through, costs way too much... totally different, honest. /s

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 9:16am

    "Nice business you've got there, be a shame if something were to happen to it..."

    At least when you're having to pay protection money to the mob they can only threaten you with a few broken bones or a trashed business, and can't throw you in jail if you refuse to comply. Unlike the NYPD the mob also doesn't want to kill your business, as a dead business is one that's not paying out, whereas the NYPD doesn't particularly care either way so long as they get what they want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 9:34am

    NYPD Using 'Nuisance Abatement' Law To Force Small Businesses To Install Cameras, Agree To Warrantless Searches

    Alternate wording:

    NYPD Using 'Nuisance Abatement' Law To Convince Citizens To Lose Last Remaining Shred of Respect for The Law, Give No More Fucks Whatsoever About Continued Life or Safety Of Even One Single Cop

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Whatever (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 9:45am

      Re:

      "NYPD Using 'Nuisance Abatement' Law To Convince Citizens To Lose Last Remaining Shred of Respect for The Law, Give No More Fucks Whatsoever About Continued Life or Safety Of Even One Single Cop"

      Most of the people involved stop giving fucks years ago. This isn't like some nice upstanding neighborhood with super low crime rates and sweet children who go to school, mow lawns for extra cash, and spend time with their family every evening playing board games.

      This is a city with high crime rates, insane levels of drug activity, gang activity, underage drinking, and just endless amounts of criminal activities.

      Is this the right answer> Nope. But the reasons they are doing it are real and the solutions hard to come by, unless you want to put a police officer in every licensed business in New York City.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 9:56am

        Re: Re:

        Policing cannot solve those problems, because their root cause is economic inequality. along with loss of hope due.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 10:35am

        Re: Re:

        Official statistics beg to differ. Or you have some alternative source from an unicorn you know?

        But the reasons they are doing it are real and the solutions hard to come by, unless you want to put a police officer in every licensed business in New York City.

        We should also put a camera at every home to prevent further crime. Why stop there? MAke everybody wear always on body cameras. And arrest if battery dies.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 11:11am

          Re: Re: Re:

          We should also put a camera at every home to prevent further crime. Why stop there? MAke everybody wear always on body cameras. And arrest if battery dies.

          Almost everyone, since it would be a terrible violation of privacy and just such a hassle to require police to wear them, and their job is hard enough already to have to deal with that as well. /poe

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 12:47pm

        Re: Re:

        Kazimierz Dabrowski called. He wanted to know if you'd let Wikipedia use your picture in the 'Level II' section of the Positive Disintegration entry.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 1:58pm

        Re: Re:

        Most of the people involved stop giving fucks years ago.
        There are a lot of things that could be said about this, but I'll just go with one: 'the people involved' are known as 'all of us', given that the NYPD is the biggest police force in the country and are setting precedent for what the other 18,000 will be able to implement and get away with.

        Every time LEAs and LEOs show themselves to think and behave with the same total disregard for the rights of everyone as the sociopaths they call 'real criminals' do, the less the rest of are going to bother differentiating between the groups. The cops are lumping all of us into the same group whether we're boy-scouts or serial-rapists; we need to return the favor.

        Of course, none of this is relevant in a world where law, justice, ethics, and morality are all synonymous and defined as 'whatever the people with guns, badges, and matching outfits say they are, subject to change without notice'. I swear, some people would be as happy being governed by child-vivisectionists as they would any other group, as long as the paperwork was filled out right.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 2:27pm

        Re: Re:

        @Whatever

        To sacrifice the law and constitution because the alternative is challenging is leading to a major decline in relations between the government and the public because it isn't just the NYPD it's everybody. Finding a solution to life's most challenging problems have more enduring benefits compared to just copping out (no pun intended)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 2 May 2016 @ 4:25pm

        Re: Re:

        But remember - most of these abatement's were directly due to the actions of a undercover cop making an illegal transaction. So you could make the argument that putting a police officer in every business will actually increase crime, as they have to find something wrong to validate their existence.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 11:24pm

        Re: Re:

        And this is going to endear small businesses that give a fuck how, exactly?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 10:37am

    A Few Bad Apples

    Year after year, as these stories build up, they create a body of work that throws shade at the excuse of:

    "A few bad apples" when some police activity is finally found "wrong".

    More and more, it seems that the nations various police forces are actually more the case of "a few good apples" in an mostly spoiled batch. And the worst is that (a la Serpico) it must not be much fun to be a good apple in that batch, which would push them out of the force.

    We know that the "thin blue line" means that they do the opposite of pushing out the spoiled apples, so if they are welcome to remain on the force, we should be concerned about (and measure) the exit rate for the good apples.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 May 2016 @ 10:56am

      Re: A Few Bad Apples

      The police: Where you get fired not for abuse of power or doing a bad job but because you tried to stop others from doing so and were told you weren't welcome as a result.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 2 May 2016 @ 11:34am

    NYPD - New York's finest... protection racket

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 May 2016 @ 4:22pm

    Robert Messner, who heads the NYPD’s Civil Enforcement Unit, which handles the cases, said during an interview with the Daily News in December that his unit does not keep a database of the businesses required to maintain cameras.


    Are you serious? That sounds like a FOIA request in the making. If they don't keep a database, then how do they know not to hit the business up again or which ones they have unwarranted access into?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 5 May 2016 @ 6:18am

    Why?

    Why is anyone willing to live in New York, let alone operate a retail business there? I don't understand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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