Jumaane Williams

MISTRUSTS NYPD NUMBERS: Although the number of stop-and-frisks done by the Police Department in recent years have been less than two percent of the 685,000 conducted in 2011—two years before a Federal Judge ruled the department had habitually carried out the program in violation of the Constitution—Public Advocate Jumaane William was skeptical about how much progress had been made. He said he believed many stops were not being officially recorded, and that the high percentage of stops that had been conducted based on suspicion of weapons possession yet resulted in no weapons being found 93 percent of the time meant 'you're not even dealing with gun violence' in using the tactic.

Critics of the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk policy July 29 petitioned the Federal Judge overseeing the settlement of a 2013 ruling that they had been done in a discriminatory manner to take steps to make communities of color more involved in oversight of the policy, claiming that while far fewer stops have been conducted in recent years, they still have overwhelmingly targeted blacks and Latinos.

In addition, those critics, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Councilman Brad Lander, the Democratic nominee for City Comptroller, asserted that while two-thirds of those stops were attributed to suspicion that the person detained might be carrying a weapon, in 93 percent of those instances, none was found.

Not Counting Some?

And, Mr. Williams told reporters at a press conference a stone's throw from Police Headquarters, "I am happy that on paper the [number] of stops have decreased," adding there were indications that far more than the listed number of stops were being conducted but not included in the count.

Standing with advocacy groups including Communities United for Police Reform and Vocal New York, whose members were holding signs stating "Black & Latinx New Yorkers Still Wrongly Targeted for Stops," Mr. Williams said that while they came from neighborhoods where disproportionate numbers of stops were still being conducted, "We also represent and work with communities that want to be safe."

That was what was so frustrating about the high percentage of stops linked to possible weapons possession that turned up nothing, the Public Advocate said. "This is the rub: you're not even dealing with the violence," Mr. Williams said. "What we want is a real, comprehensive plan to deal with gun violence."

Monifa Bandele, an activist affiliated with both the CUPR and the Malcolm X Grass Roots Movement, said, "We know the NYPD cannot correct this problem. We know they cannot police themselves." She later added, "We're not gonna go back to the times when our children were stopped multiple times on their way to and from school."

A Huge Reduction

Yet implicit in that last remark was that such overuse of stop-and-frisk was a relic of the past, whose excesses began to be curbed late in the 12 years of Michael Bloomberg's mayoralty by a single memo from then-Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

In Mr. Bloomberg's first year in office, 2002, the NYPD conducted 97,000 stop-and-frisks. By 2011, the number had soared to 685,000, even as crime continued a 20-year downward trend that began in the last two years of Mayor David Dinkins's tenure, accelerated under Rudy Giuliani, and grew even less-frequent under Mr. Bloomberg.

Astonishingly, the upward trend gathered more steam in 2012, with 202,000 stops conducted in the first three months of that year. But a growing public outcry over the 2011 numbers, and a lawsuit that began moving closer to trial before a Federal Judge in Manhattan, prompted Mr. Kelly to finally pump the brakes that spring with a memo instructing officers to concentrate on quality stops rather than worrying about quantity.

Police-union officials said at the time that this memo had the effect of ending the quotas--which the department described as "goals"which had driven the number of stops so high. By the end of the year, stops that had been on pace to surpass 800,000 had leveled off to 533,000. For 2013, the year in which U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in August that the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk had veered far outside the constitutional requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed or was about to be before conducting stops, the final total was 191,000.

Further Drops Since

The rapid decline in stops continued throughout Mayor de Blasio's tenure in office, which began in 2014. Last year, just 9,544 were conducted, although the Legal Aid Society, one of the groups involved in the settlement reached following Judge Scheindlin's ruling, said that low number was partly attributable to the pandemic.

But in 2019, there were just 13,459 stopsroughly the range in which they had fallen in Mr. de Blasio's first five years in office. Perhaps equally significant was that while 66 percent of the stops resulted in neither an arrest nor a summons, that was actually a significant improvement from the Bloomberg era, when 88 percent of those stopped wound up being released with no further action taken by officers.

And so despite the spirited chanting of "Hey, hey, ho, ho, stop-and-frisk has got to go!" by the crowd of about 50 people mustered for the press conference, there were indications that to a large degree it had already gone.

Mr. Lander, who had joined Mr. Williams a decade ago when both were Councilman as that body's most-outspoken critics of the tactic, acknowledged, "There are many, many fewer stops, and that is a good thing." He quickly added, though, "We are still policing people based on their race in this city."

Short on Horror Stories

Onika Shepherd, a political director of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, which had a half-dozen members taking part in the press conference, said, "We are tired of waiting. We are tired of seeing our children, brothers and sisters of black and Latinx communities, harassed."

But none of the stories similar to the dozens of unwarranted stops that individual young people of color recounted during the trial eight years ago were presented at the press conference. The closest came from John McFarlane of Vocal New York, who said, "I got stopped once last year. Since 2013, I have been stopped eight times."

In the court papers filed that morning with U.S. District Judge Annalisa Torres, who took charge of overseeing the settlement after Judge Scheindlin retired five years ago, attorneys asked for the creation of a Community Collaborative Board that would be involved with both the Judge and the monitor implementing its terms, former City Corporation Council Peter Zimroth.

One of the lawyers involved in the case for the past decade, Darius Charney, said the communities most affected "have been denied critical information about the status of reforms."

To remedy that, the group, in addition to urging Judge Torres and the monitor to consult the community board it is seeking, wants the monitor to regularly survey the communities about how stops are being carried out and hold two public hearings annually on progress being made. One speaker at the rally called for the firing of officers found to have made stops based on skin color rather than reasonable suspicion. 

The Adams Factor

Participants were asked whether they were concerned about the likelihood that Eric Adamswho during the Democratic primary campaign defended stop-and-frisk as an effective policing tactic when used properlywill be the city's next Mayor.

Mr. Williams pointed out that Mr. Adams, a former NYPD Captain who retired from the department midway through the Bloomberg administration after being elected to the State Senate, had been a key witness during the Federal trial, criticizing the way in which the department frequently used stops outside the constitutional guidelines established in a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Based on his trial testimony, Mr. Williamswho during the campaign verbally clashed with Mr. Adams on several occasions and endorsed vigorous NYPD critic Maya Wiley against him—said, "I'm gonna assume that he's in support of everything that we're doing."

Mr. Charney offered a more-qualified response, saying, "Whoever is the next Mayor, we're gonna assume he is going to follow what the court has ruled."

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