A handful of activists and students congregated in front of Pace University, just over five blocks from Zuccotti Park, to express their grievances. However, they weren’t joining the chorus of Wall Street dissenters; they were addressing a longstanding inner-city issue that has recently received more media attention because of the unnecessary force and searches being practiced by officers at the Occupy protests.
The quintessence of excessive force and illegal searches and seizures is manifested in the NYPD’s practice of stop-and-frisk. The act disproportionately affects people of color and hardly gets guns and drugs off the street as much as it is used to meet quotas and fortify precinct crime stats towards the end of the month.
The only way to put an end this seemingly blatant violation of the 4th and 14th amendment is to police the law. Without an independent watchdog, the NYPD, and other police departments for that matter, can virtually act as they wish without any check or balancing from the communities they serve. For that reason, more grassroots organizations like Police Reform Organizational Project (PROP) must team up with politicians like City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who was detained by officers during the Labor Day parade, to advocate for a long overdue civilian watchdog.
For those who are not familiar with the gravity of stop-and-frisk and its role in reinforcing the occupying-force-image that the NYPD has in the inner-city, the statistics are daunting. Last year, there were 614,000 stop-and-frisks; 86% were of black and Latinos and 49% were of youth between the ages of 14 and 16. This year, the NYPD is already on pace to shatter last year’s stop rate by 13%. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “own army” has increased the number of stop-and-frisk routines between 2002 and 2010 from 97,000 to 601,055 — that’s over a 600% increase in just eight years.
Champions of stop-and-frisk argue that it not only complies with the monumental Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968) decision, which ruled that our 4th amendment protection from unreasonable searches and seizures is not violated when officers use stop-and-frisk, so long as the officer has reasonable suspicion that the individual has committed, is committing, or will soon commit a crime and/or is armed and poses an immediate threat, but that it is also an effective means to get guns and drugs off the street. However, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. In merely 1.2% of last year’s frisks, contraband was detected. Even more telling is that 88% of those stopped were entirely innocent and thus were taken into central booking only to have their baseless summonses tossed.
As revealed through recent reports of flaking, or the act of planting drugs on a civilian before frisking them, as well as the common tactic of trumping up charges by tricking frisk-victims into pulling out any substances in their possession (marijuana possession is a ticketable offense; having it in plain view is a misdemeanor) cops are using desperate techniques to meet quotas for their precinct. When cops like Adrian Schoolcraft, who tape-recorded precinct captains making controversial demands to issue more summonses, whistle blow about the pressure to meet quotas, they are often forced out of the department.
The only way to put an end to this grossly undemocratic act is to police the law. While there is currently a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), the powerless organization serves as a lapdog to the NYPD. Individual complaints are investigated, followed by a suggested course of action that is issued to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly to decide upon. Sometimes, the case can take as long as a year. And with the slaying of Sean Bell and the spraying of undisruptive Occupy protesters, it seems clear that Commissioner Kelly is quick to toss away suggestions and wrist slap his department for life-altering offenses — ones that would land the average New Yorker behind bars.
But change is possible. As Government and Public Affairs Counselor Corey Bearak of the Bronx outlines, there are several steps that the City has to implement if they support fair policing. First, CCRB should be an independently financed organization that receives a portion of the $4.3 billion NYPD budget to run smoothly; secondly, there should be more than 13 people on the board to receive and channel grievances to Commissioner Kelly; thirdly, the organization should not only have the power to subpoena, review, and suggest actions on a case-by-case basis, but also the authority to review trends and patterns in misconduct, influence the training and recruitment process at the police academy, jockey for new policies and alterations to the existing ones, and power to override Kelly when he decides to let cops off for gross misconduct; and finally, the power to elect and impeach police commissioners and lieutenants through referendums.
Until the people have the power to police those who police them, who use so much of their taxpaying dollars, who, as Bloomberg’s self-proclaimed army, may sometimes ostracize them, who receive praise that mirrors that of a war veteran in our newspapers, the department stands unchallenged. It is time to get the community involved in policing and not a moment later.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons