After Judge Rules Stop-and-Frisk Case Class Action, NYPD Commissioner Kelly Announces Bogus Policy Change

 Just one day after Judge Shira Schiendlin ruled that a lawsuit targeting the New York City's stop-and-frisk program will be class action -- forcing the city to defend making hundreds of thousands of stops before a jury -- Commissioner Ray Kelly says he is changing the controversial policy. 

Justice Schiendlin said that the policy, under which more than 685,000 stops are conducted annually, and 87 percent of those stopped are black and Latino, amounts to racial profiling. Of course, less than two percent of stop-and-frisks accomplish what they are intended for (finding weapons), and the vast majority of those stopped were never charged with any crime, despite the fact that officers must articulate "reasonable suspicion" for a stop, and have evidence (a bulge in the pants) to believe someone is armed in order to frisk. Thus, Justice Schiendlin said the police department,  "displays a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers' most fundamental Constitutional rights."

So now, Kelly is deflecting the blame. He says that he will better train to officers, oversee their stop-and-frisk reports, and make sure they are following the law. In a letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Kelly said that executive officers presiding over each precinct will be held "responsible for personally conducting an audit" of stop-and-frisk reports, or 250s, as they are often called, "on an ongoing basis." 

The last time Kelly announced changes to policy after a firestorm of criticism was last Fall, when he sent an internal memo to NYPD officers imploring them to basically follow the law on marijuana arrests (and not charge people with pot "in public view," if officers had removed it from a pocket or backpack during a stop-and-frisk). Afterwards, the data shows, marijuana arrests dipped only slightly.

This policy change, it seems, will be of similar insignificance. 

From the Wall Street Journal:

The chief of department will also now review these work sheets in advance of the NYPD's weekly data-driven accountability meetings, known as Compstat, and question precinct commanders regarding the quality of the reports.

"I believe these measures will help us more closely monitor the daily street encounter activity of precinct personnel," Mr. Kelly wrote in the letter.

The department is also in the process of developing a "quantitative mechanism" to identify officers who have received a markedly high number of complaints from the public about stops.

In addition, the department republished an order that specifically prohibits racial profiling, and that order will be incorporated into training sessions for all officers. To beef up training, the department established a new course that provides officers with additional instructions on when and how to conduct lawful stops. The NYPD is also completing five training videos about street encounters.

The problem with Kelly's letter is that it assumes rogue police officers are illegally conducting stop-and-frisks at their own will, when, really, they conduct so many stops because they are required to meet certain "performance standards" encouraged by Kelly himself.  In her scathing 57-page  decision Wednesday, Justice Schiendlin said there was "overwhelming evidence" that  the stop-and-frisk policy, and its abuses, are a hierarchical problem, and that those at the top are responsible for mass neglect of Constitutional rights. Quotas from up top, she indicated, are forcing lower-ranking police to conduct so many stops that, often, they are illegal.  

 If Kelly really wants to create change, he would abandon his philosophy that low-level arrests and street encounters with police decrease serious crime. The problem is not that police need training, but better direction from him. Stop pressuring precinct commanders to show high levels of stops, and the numbers of Constitutional violations will drop. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at May 18, 2012, 2:13am