Two recently passed City Council bills have once again put the NYPD’s controversial crime fighting tool, known as stop-and-frisk, back in the spotlight as area residents and politicians take sides on whether or not the policy is in need of reform.
One bill, aimed at prohibiting racial profiling, would allow people to sue the police in state court over perceived abuses. The other bill would provide for the creation of an independent monitor, likely within the city’s Department of Investigation, to further oversee the activities and policies of the NYPD.
Both measures, passed last week and known together as the Community Safety Act, could have a substantial chilling effect on how police do their job, according to critics.
Those opposed to the act contend the bills would allow crime rates to climb and reverse years of crime-fighting progress made by the city since the 1990s. Others say the department’s stop-and-frisk policy is in dire need of reform, often relying on unlawful tactics to stop and detain people at random.
Numerous city-based rights groups have in the past been highly critical of the NYPD’s policy which seems to stop and detain Blacks and Hispanics at a much higher rate than Whites, across the city.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has said that the police department’s own policies are troubling. “The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights,” the group says on its website.
“The Department’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known: The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino,” the group says.
Mayor Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of stop-and-frisk tactics, has promised to veto both bills despite the fact that both passed with enough votes to override any veto.
However, the mayor’s veto would force the council to vote again in a few months, thus giving the administration more time to convince council members to drop the legislation.
The bill that aims to prohibit racial profiling passed 34-17. The members of the Queens delegation that voted against it were: Council members Liz Crowley (D-Middle Village), James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).
The bill to that creates an independent monitor was approved 40-11. The Queens lawmakers who voted against it were: Crowley, Gennaro, Koo, Ulrich, and Vallone.
“On this issue, we agree with Mayor Bloomberg,” says Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “Anything that would further tie the hands of the cops, it’s not only going to hurt the morale of our police but will also endanger the residents of the city.”
Holden, who frequently works with the 104th Police Precinct on community issues, called the bills “foolhardy.”
Asked specifically about an independent monitor of the police, Holden did not waiver and said that an external monitor is not needed and could only “mess things up.
“We already have checks and balances … we have the council, the attorney general, a number of internal and external monitors of the NYPD,” he continued.
Noel Leader, a retired 20-year veteran of the NYPD and co-founder of the group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, said his group believes in the mission of the department and that they back law enforcement in general.
However, Leader said that the timing of the Council’s legislative push for these reforms is “highly suspicious.”
He said that his group has written the Council for help on stop-and-frisk for years and has never made any progress.
“I think it’s because this is an election year and also it’s a tactic that the Council is using to try and prevent a federally-appointed inspector general as opposed to a monitor appointed through the mayor,” Leader explained.
A class action stop-and-frisk lawsuit, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, is currently being ruled upon by a federal judge in Manhattan. Legal experts have said that a ruling against the city could result in the appointment of a federal, independent monitor to oversee the NYPD.
“We want the federal government to appoint a monitor,” Leader said. “We have more confidence in that process than we do in the mayor appointing an inspector general.”
Elaborating on stop-and-frisk procedures, Leader added that, “The problem is not the number of stops – it’s the number of illegal stops.” He said too many stops police make have nothing to do with crime or criminality, they’re just random stops.
He also said that the use of quotas is rampant within the department.
“Many, many stops are arbitrary where officers aren’t actually investigating any crime; they’re just stopping individuals on the street because a supervisor tells them too.”
“I believe that this legislation will adversely affect the ability of the NYPD to protect the communities within the City,” says Heidi Harrison Chain, a Forest Hills resident and president of the 112th Precinct Community Council.
“Police officers must be encouraged to give and use accurate descriptions of perpetrators to be able to effectively apprehend criminals,” Chain continued. “Anything that will make their effort more difficult will have a negative impact on the quality of life in every community in the city.”
Councilmember Karen Koslowitz (D- Forest Hills) split her vote on the bills by voting in favor of the independent monitor but against the racial profiling measure.
“I wasn’t going to take a chance on crime rising again to where it was when I took office in 1991,” Koslowitz said, crediting the stop-and-frisk policies for helping to reduce crime in the city.
But, she said she voted yes to an independent monitor because she feels the tool needs to also be more lawfully employed.
“Police have to be more sensitive to people when they stop them,” Koslowitz said.
But, Holden said the bills will ultimately do more harm than good when it comes to policing in the city.
“I don’t think this will make the NYPD better,” he said. “There’s a danger of messing with this [stop-and-frisk], of returning to the bad old days of high crime in New York City.”
By Alan Krawitz