In the wake of The Village Voice‘s “NYPD Tapes” series, the police department has started issuing written cards on a citywide basis to New Yorkers explaining the purpose and legal justification for a stop-and-frisk.
Based on tape recordings made inside Brooklyn’s 81st Precinct, the Voice series reported that stop-and-frisks were being done as much to hit statistical targets as for a law-enforcement purpose. Precinct supervisors were heard ordering cops to do them just to get “a number.”
Stop-and-frisks have skyrocketed over the past five years to 575,000 last year. The NYPD has struggled to convince the public that there is a valid reason for the increase.
The department is now faced with a thorny class-action lawsuit and allegations that doing stop-and-frisks to hit quotas is a violation of the bedrock legal standard that holds that an officer must have reasonable suspicion of a crime.
In addition, the New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit asking a court to order the NYPD on privacy and constitutional grounds to stop keeping a database of names of people who were stopped, but not arrested.
State Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries and Senator Eric Adams announced Sunday that they had introduced a bill in Albany that would bar police departments from keeping similar computer databases.
So the NYPD policy change, dated five days after the second installment of the Voice series, could be seen as an attempt to take their claims directly to New Yorkers. The program was started in the 32nd, 44th, and 75th precincts on a pilot basis. A department order issued May 18 ordered the citywide expansion.
The main problem with the new program is just issuing a preprinted card doesn’t explain anything about the specific reason for an individual stop. In other words, just because an officer hands someone a card doesn’t mean the reason for that stop was justified or rose to the legal standard.