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28 Jun, 2013 01:32

New York City Council passes measures to put a leash on stop-and-frisk

New York City Council passes measures to put a leash on stop-and-frisk

The city of New York has passed two measures meant to rein in NYPD's stop-and-frisk program by expanding the definition of racial profiling and enacting a seven-year departmental audit program. Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to veto both.

The New York City Council is seeking to create an independent inspector general with the sole purpose of monitoring the New York Police Department for seven years going forward. Such an inspector would also be charged wtih proposing recommendations on how to improve the department's operation.

In addition, the council will expand the definition of racial profiling, thus allowing residents who believe they have been a target to sue in state court.

According to Reuters, shortly after the vote Bloomberg promised to veto both measures and force the council to hold another vote to override his veto. Each of the measures passed through the 51-member council with at least 34 votes, which suggests they should have the necessary two-thirds majority to override Bloomberg’s veto.

Both the mayor and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have defended stop-and-frisk, which a federal judge decided was unconstitutional in January 2013, despite criticism of racial profiling, arguing that the frequency in stops attributed to minority neighborhoods are linked to higher crime rates in those city regions.

An analysis by the New York Public Advocate’s office of data provided by the NYPD for 2012 has shown that the likelihood that an African American detained for search would be found in possession of a weapon was half that of a white person.

Data shows that the NYPD uncovered a weapon in one out of every 49 stops of white New Yorkers, while for latinos a weapon was found for one out of every 71 stops, and for African Americans, in one out of 93 stops.

Statistics gathered about the program show that in its history, more young African-American men have been 'stopped-and-frisked' than live in New York City, suggesting that many young black men have been stopped by police on multiple occasions.

AFP Photo / Mario Tama

Stop-and-frisk, which proponents claim is aimed at reducing crime by stopping, questioning and searching individuals suspected of wrongdoing, has earned the ire of a number of minority advocacy groups, as well as Democratic mayoral candidates who are vying for the city’s top job as Bloomberg prepares to end his last term.

Testimony by several New York police officers in connection to a lawsuit mounted against the department allege that officers regularly target young black men and other minorities by an arbitrary notion of “reasonable suspicion.” Critics of stop-and-frisk argue that the policy walks hand in hand with racial profiling.

In March, following evidence provided by a leaked recording, Officer Pedro Serrano, an 8-year veteran of the New York Police Department, testified that during a meeting with Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormick over his job performance he was specifically told which individuals to concentrate on investigating.

“I don’t have any trouble telling you this: male blacks 14 to 20, 21,” said McCormick.  

Serrano’s testimony was presented as part of Floyd v. City of New York, in which four plaintiffs claim they were racially profiled by the NYPD. Four additional police officers presented evidence for the prosecution in that case.

Mayor Bloomberg, like his predecessor Rudi Giuliani, has made combating crime a centerpiece of his three terms in office. Since Bloomberg took office in 2002 city data indicates a steady decline in major felony offenses overall, which include murder (including non-negligent manslaughter), rape, robbery, felony assault and burglary. The number of robberies in 2002, for example, were reported to be 27,229, and had dropped to 20,144 by 2012.

The particularly low murder rates for a city the size of New York have been used by mayor Bloomberg and NYPD commissioner Kelly as indications that controversial and unconstitutional police tactics are effective. Still, according to 2012 FBI crime statistics, the city falls somewhere in the middle for all violent offenses - “violent” crime defined as rape, robbery and assault in addition to murder.

In June the Obama administration made waves by extending its support for a monitor to oversee the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk. Bloomberg was quick to slam the administration’s move.

“We think that a monitor would be even more disruptive than an IG (inspector general),” Bloomberg said at the time.

“It just makes no sense whatsoever, when lives are on the line, to try to change the rules and hamper the police department from doing their job,” he added. According to the mayor, similar oversight efforts in Philadelphia have hampered efforts to combat crime.