By Chris Hoenig
The last realistic legal roadblock is gone and now the legal reforms borne out of New York City’s Stop and Frisk program can begin to take hold.
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, threw out the appeals of the NYPD’s police unions, who were attempting to block a settlement full of policing reforms recommended by a federal judge from taking effect. They can still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last year, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy was unconstitutional because it unfairly targeted Blacks and Latinos. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration almost immediately appealed, fighting the ruling in court.
But current Mayor Bill de Blasio ran on an anti-Stop and Frisk platform, vowing to end the policy and institute reforms suggested by Scheindlin. The Second Circuit panel said that the people of New York made their feelings clear at the ballot box.
“Granting the unions’ motions in the wake of the November 2013 mayoral election would essentially condone a collateral attack on the democratic process and could erode the legitimacy of decisions made by the democraticallyelected representatives of the people,” the judges wrote in the ruling.
“For years now, ‘Stop and Frisk’ has been the subject of extensive public filings and intense media scrutiny. Whatever the merit of the unions’ claim that Judge Scheindlin’s rulings were incorrectly premised ‘upon statistical evidence purporting to place 4.4 million stops at issue,’ allowing the unions to revive a now settled dispute by intervening at this late juncture would substantially prejudice the existing parties and unduly encroach upon the city’s inherent discretion to settle a dispute against it.”
The Stop and Frisk program allowed NYPD officers to stop and search anyone for broad reasons, including “furtive movements”; the possibility the suspect could be “casing a location” or “acting as a lookout”; “wearing clothes commonly used in a crime” or “inappropriate attire for the season”; or even just the officer’s knowledge of an individual’s prior behavior.
But young Blacks and Latinos were disproportionately targeted under the policy: More than half of those stopped were Black—despite making up only a quarter of the population—and another roughly one-third of those stopped were Latino. For perspective, an estimated 158,000 young Black men live in NYC. In 2011 alone, young Black men accounted for 168,000 stops. The Brownsville section of Brooklyn, which has a mostly Black population, averaged 13,000 stops a year; only 14,000 people live in the neighborhood.
The results of the stops seemed to prove the lack of justification for the program: Only about 8 percent of Blacks stopped were issued a summons or arrested, with the overall number at around 10 percent.
As part of the reforms, an independent monitor will oversee the department’s policing techniques to ensure there is no racial profiling, a blueprint for improving police-community relations will be developed, and a pilot program for the use of police body cameras will be started.
But as Stop and Frisk enters the reform phase, Broken Windows policing is just ramping up. The new policy from the NYPD targets small crime, with the belief that that will help prevent serious, violent crimes in the future.
But the Broken Windows program is shaping up to be just as targeted as Stop and Frisk, with Blacks and Latinos facing a disproportionate number of tickets for minor violations virtually everywhere in the city.
On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where the population is 87 percent white, Blacks and Latinos receive 60 percent of summonses. In some of Brooklyn’s toniest neighborhoods, where barely a quarter of the population is Black or Latino, 78 percent of those summoned are Black or Latino.
The disparities continue into majority-Black and -Latino neighborhoods. In the Mill Basin and Flatlands neighborhoods, part of the NYPD’s 63rd Precinct, Blacks and Latinos receive 81 percent of summonses, even though they only make up 52 percent of the population.