A federal class action lawsuit against New York City’s stop and frisk tactics continued Tuesday, with courtroom testimony from several witnesses who said they were stopped because of their race. These are charges the city has repeatedly denied, countering that such stops are based on crime statistics, not racial profiling. The case is considered the strongest yet against the NYPD policy.
Twenty-four-year-old Nicholas Peart testified that he was stopped, asked to put his hands up against the wall, have his pockets searched, and was cuffed and put into a police vehicle. He said he felt degraded and, at one point in his testimony, wept.
Police have made more than five million stops in the past decade, mostly of black and Hispanic men. But the city has said repeatedly that stops are not made on the basis of race.
In this case, the federal judge will rule on whether the policy needs to be changed. And whatever the ruling, it will be up to one of the nine candidates vying to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg to determine the shape of policing in New York City in years to come.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced Tuesday that council members have reached a “broad agreement” on a plan to create an inspector general to oversee the NYPD. She announced the deal just hours before a mayoral candidate forum on public safety in Jamaica, Queens.
Quinn has praised NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s willingness to make adjustments to the current stop and frisk policy, despite saying the department remains off track. “I think we lost focus on the quality of a stop, and became focused on the quantity of a stop,” Quinn said.
Similarly, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio supports continuing some version of stop and frisk, calling the policy a valid, if overused, policing tool. He would leave it up to individual police precincts to decide what the right amount of stops is for each community.
“Some years ago we were using it in a much more judicious fashion, and it was working, and maintaining the right relationship between police and community,” he said.
Former City Comptroller Bill Thompson also said it’s possible to keep stop and frisk, but to use it “correctly.” But the current city comptroller, John Liu has made it clear he doesn’t believe the policy is worth reforming.
“Stop and frisk is not something that has to be adjusted or refined or mended or changed,” he said. “It’s gotta be stopped.”
On the Republican side, former MTA chief Joe Lhota has promised to continue to the controversial tactic, pointing to the same crime stat drops Bloomberg uses to justify stop and frisk. The rest of the GOP field is with him.
And in response to the Council's plan to create an inspector general for the NYPD, police spokesman Paul Browne says no police department in the country has more oversight than the NYPD, which devotes about the same number of personnel to oversight as it does to counter terrorism.