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Lawmakers look to bring change to NYPD's stop-and-frisk program

Published time: October 10, 2012 16:43
Edited time: October 10, 2012 20:43
An unidentified man is stopped by police officers in New York. (Reuters / Shannon Stapleton)

An unidentified man is stopped by police officers in New York. (Reuters / Shannon Stapleton)

Change could finally be coming to the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program as the City Council begins hearings this week to consider new rules with the potential of drastically dialing-back a campaign considered by many as unconstitutional.

On the heels of months of scorn and criticism from civil liberty advocates and other opponents of the stop-and-frisk program, the New York Police Department’s hallmark practice of patting-down and interrogating persons on mere suspicion alone could be finally fixed. Starting this week, the Big Apple’s City Council will on citizens of the five boroughs to bring up their grievances with the program and propose changes.

Lawmakers have already begun drafting a copy of the Community Safety Act, a legislation that will aim to reverse what’s considered the worst of the NYPD’s faults involving the stop-and-frisk policy. Now over the next several weeks, hearings will be held in order encourage debate that will hopefully bring change.

"As the New York City Council engages in a series of hearings on the NYPD policy of Stop, Question and Frisk this month, I hope that this event can continue the meaningful discussion and bring together community leaders to have a balanced dialogue of the practices at hand" Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore), who chairs the City Council's Civil Rights Committee, tells the Staten Island Advance.

Although on the books since the 1990s, stop-and-frisk has come under attack particularly during the last decade under the rule of New York’s current mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Between 2002 when he took office and 2011, the number of citizens stopped by the police for allegedly arising suspicion has soared to a record 684,330 encounters just last year. So far in 2012, the Associated Press reports, the number of stop-and-frisk occurrences have clocked in at around 337,000, but that isn’t to say that all New Yorkers are seeing an equal number of incidents across the city: of especial concern is how stop-and-frisk under Mayor Bloomberg has seemingly targeted minorities more than one might easily imagine.

The New York Civil Liberties Union reports that while innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to these “street interrogations” more than 4 million times since Mayor Bloomberg entered City Hall, 87 percent of the persons stopped last year were either black or Hispanic. Of those, however, barely one-in-ten of the stop-and-frisk encounters targeted minorities ended in arrest.

Already, the Community Safety Act includes provisions that will aim to reverse that trend by, among other initiatives, will instill an inspector general to oversee the NYPD.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who the AP claims has “near-total control over which efforts get to a council vote,” says she is entirely for “ongoing reform,” but hasn’t commented specifically on what proposals she is willing to throw her weight behind just yet.

Discussion over stop-and-frisk reform isn’t expected to subside anytime soon, either. When Mayor Bloomberg’s position goes up before vote next year, New York Police Commissioner Ray Keller has already been hailed as a possible successor to the man who just last year called the NYPD his own “army.” Earlier this year, Mayor Bloomberg defended Kelly’s tenure as NYPD head, saying, "Nobody should ask Ray Kelly to apologize – he's not going to and neither am I – for saving 5,600 live.”

During that same May 2012 press conference, a reporter asked Mayor Bloomberg if he was aware that stop-and-frisk has not caused a significant drop in crime, to which he replied, “I know that.”

On Monday, Mayor Bloomberg dismissed the idea of revamping the stop-and-frisk program, saying from a news conference, "The last thing we need is to have some politician or judge getting involved with setting policy . . . Because you won't be safe anymore. Today you are."

One day later, The Nation Magazine published the audio from what is reportedly a June 2011 stop-and-frisk incident that the victim, a teenager named Alvin, secretly recorded on his cell phone. In the audio, a NYPD officer is heard threatening the youth with violence for no apparent reason, warning him, “I’m gonna break your fuckin’ arm, then I’m gonna punch you in the fuckin’ face,” also insisting he would arrest him “For being a fucking mutt.”