House Arrest, Redefined

The NYCLU files suit over the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program for private property

On a recent Tuesday around 9 p.m., 21-year-old Terrence Brown left his Bronx apartment to take out the garbage. Dressed in slippers and pajamas, he walked down the hall to the trash chute. Three police officers approached him.

"Do you live here?" one of them asked.

"Yes," he said.

Scott Houston/Polaris/Newscom

Brown tells the Voice that an officer then asked, "What are you doing?" 

Brown explained that he was throwing out the garbage, but the officers asked for his ID anyway.

But Brown had given his ID to police officers about a week earlier in an unrelated incident.

So he got slapped with a ticket for trespassing—in his own home.

"I just tried to keep it respectful," says Brown, a produce manager at a Stop & Shop in the Bronx. "That's trespassing? I was in my pajamas and slippers. . . . And the next thing I know, I have a ticket and three cops in my face."

This kind of policing is exactly what the New York Civil Liberties Union is targeting in a new lawsuit. The group claims that the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk program, which stops an overwhelming majority of black and Latino suspects, is also taking place in private buildings.

Landlords citywide can sign up for a program called "Operation Clean Halls," which is intended to prevent drug use and sales through indoor patrolling.

In Manhattan, a Clean Halls–associated initiative run by the district attorney's office called the Trespass Affidavit Program, TAP, also targets trespassing in buildings with drug problems.

TAP operates in more than 3,200 buildings, but the NYCLU says that the initiatives are shrouded in secrecy. The NYCLU claims that the D.A. denied a public-records request to identify participating buildings. The advocacy group fired back on January 20 with a lawsuit filed in the New York State Supreme Court.

"We were hearing directly from people that building residents were being subjected to pretty intense police practices—getting stopped in lobbies, stopped at the mailbox, at the garbage chute, in the hallway," says Alexis Karteron, NYCLU senior staff attorney.

(Stop-and-frisks are also resulting in an increased number of lawsuits by people arrested—see this week's cover story)

"When you already have a record of doing a poor job of catching criminals when you are engaged in these kinds of practices on the street . . . why would you then extend the program to private buildings?" says Dr. Delores Jones-Brown, a faculty research fellow for the Center on Race, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College. Clean Halls likely disproportionately targets minorities and low-income residents the same way stop-and-frisks do, she adds.

Still, some recognize a need for cops in crime-ridden buildings.

Corey Palma, 33, who was walking past a Bronx Clean Halls building on a recent Friday, says he understands why the police have such a strong presence.

"The police are crazy around here—but they need to be," Palma says, adding that gunplay is the norm in his neighborhood. Palma, who works as a chef, still recalls with disdain an incident when the police harassed his girlfriend outside her apartment.

"I'm a black male," Palma adds. "I look suspicious."

A representative for Fernando Cabrera, Bronx city councilman, said that in 2011, Cabrera received 15 constituent calls for tougher policing.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera begs to differ. He says it's clear that the police stops are not working and are inappropriate. "We have to stand up and call it what it is: an unconstitutional practice that does not make for safer streets."

The D.A.'s office declined to comment, though a spokesperson noted that the office only brings charges for lawful arrests. (When the Voice asked the mayor about Clean Halls at a recent press conference, he said he didn't know about the issue. The NYPD did not respond to several requests for comment.)

A judge ultimately dismissed the charge for Brown, the 21-year-old ticketed while taking out his trash. But he's still bitter: Since he was 16, officers have searched him for drugs and bothered him for biking, spitting, trespassing, and walking down the street—because he is black, he says.

"It just makes me feel like a criminal," Brown says. "It doesn't matter what I do in life. I'm always gonna be seen as criminal. I may look the part. But I'm not."

 
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12 comments
Noshoes
Noshoes

Consider that NYPD cops are planting evidence on citizens during this stop-and-frisk program. They do this to get their arrests up, so that they can become Sargents, and Lieutenants become Captains, who become Majors and Colonels and soon all of them are corrupt. Lying every step of the way to 'protect' their partners.

A cop who breaks the law is no longer a cop any more. He is a criminal and should be subject to the same sexual assaults that the men they arrest and plant drugs on will be.

Scenario: Your a college student walking down the street in NY minding your own business, not causing any trouble. Well you look suspicious says the cops that search you and find nothing. They ask for your I.D. but see you don't have a criminal record, Well where did this Extacy come from? And the heroin? Toss in some weed too and whoa Ive got a felony. Hope you can handle Rikers Island, the first time you get raped can be tough but its the American Justice System, where poor men sent to jail no violent drug charges are beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and stabbed all in the name of

Ocutty
Ocutty

It is sad and angers me to know that residents within their buildings are being harrassed by NYPD police that do not live in the communities they police and care not to learn about the communities they police. legal right

Jojo Wozz
Jojo Wozz

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Sue50_oz
Sue50_oz

It strikes me, that if New Yorkers want police to get tougher on people who deal drugs in lobbies of buildings, if you are taking your trash out, carry your ID. If there is zero tolerance by the ider community to police making it hard on criminals, then it is hard for police to have zero tolerance to crime. I would rather have a city where police got it wrong sometimes, rather than a city where drug dealers had a free reign over the police!

Glenn Berman
Glenn Berman

My building was being over run with prostitutes having sex in our stair wells, going up to the roof as well as unruly kids doing drugs, our building signed up for the District Attorneys "No Trespass" program that allows the police to patrol and make arrests in our building with in two weeks 10 arrests were made, the word spread and we no longer have this criminal activity in our building. I just wanted to add that my building is Multicultural and well as Multi-everything. We've been on this program for the past 10 years, they may call it something else now, but it is effective.G-D Bless the NYPD.

Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

We all know that the nypd selectively targets blacks, I'm surprised this even made the news.

Matthew Swaye
Matthew Swaye

Ray Kelly Receives 2011 Bull Connor Award @ Columbia U.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

The NYPD just put up a watch tower on my corner, 20 feet from my door. An armed guard either watches me from behind the dark glass or does not watch me, who can say?

Guest
Guest

U.S MK Ultra Program is Alive and Well with Updated COINTELPRO in effect. The program never stopped. Why isn't NYCLU/ACLU actively opposing these programs. Especially in light of NDAA being signed by Obama fully authorizing a Police State.

bohochic
bohochic

Having to carry ID to dispose of my garbage to not face harrasment from the cops is preposterous! How about these cheap landlords intalling security systems with special door cards given out only to residents? I question the sanity of anyone who welcomes this extreme police state

Vikayla
Vikayla

ACTUALLY THE NYCLU AND ACLU are actively suing to get information on mk ultra just as they're suing to get the real information about prisons and the real stats on stop and frisk. the problem is that the people have been kept dumbed down for so long that they no longer know how to stand up and fight. no one wants to go back to the days before technology which is what will have to be done in order for us to take back our lives and countries

GlennBerman
GlennBerman

It is a sad state of affairs, that locks, cameras in and around ones building and neighborhoods are needed, but the fact is there are NYC 8-10 million people and only maybe 34000 police officers, and the people who complain about Harassment will also be the first to complain there's never a cop when you need one. Locks and cameras in themself's do not stop crime, but are a deterrent too Opportunistic criminals. Many criminals today are caught because of the video cameras.

Stephanie Clarkson
Stephanie Clarkson

'the people who complain about Harassment will also be the first to complain there's never a cop when you need one.'

While I would argue that that is a straw man (it is vague, and refers only to some 'people', not incidents), it is also not at all a contradictory issue. The cops are *not* around when you need one because they are off doing this sort of wasteful thing when there *are* better places that they could be that would provide better policing. Random stop and frisks do not work, but if a policeperson is assigned to doing them, they will not be responding to calls or available for other things. The police and support people I know are just as frustrated by this as the people being stopped, but these stupid programs are top-down; it is an administration program allowed by landlords, not an organic program developed by the police and their support workers and the people who are living in the areas they are supposed to protect.

 
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