Visiting NYC? Prepare to be Frisked

Posted May 22, 2012 in Criminal Law by Richard Dahl

If you’re planning to visit New York in the near future, be prepared to be patted down by a cop for no reason whatsoever.

That’s the message being sent to the general public by the Bloomberg administration in the form of recent statistics released by the city’s police department about its street-stop practices: 203,500 street stops during the first four months of 2012, up from 183,326 over the same period last year.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelley, speaking at a press conference, said that the city’s street-stop practices, including one called “Stop, Question, Frisk,” are deterring crime and saving lives. But the practice has drawn intense criticism from civil libertarians and others, claiming that the practice is going too far.

“The NYPD is out of control, and the culture and practices of the Department need a full-scale overhaul so that the fundamental rights of all New Yorkers are respected and all communities can trust and respect the police,” New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman said in a May 17 statement.

On May 9, the NYCLU released a report that analyzed the stop-and-frisk police database from 2011 and concluded that the practice was ineffective and being used to target blacks and Latinos, who were found to be stopped and frisked at far greater rates than whites.
Meanwhile, a class-action lawsuit against the city’s stop-and-frisk program received a green light May 16 when Manhattan District Judge Schira Scheindlin ruled that it may proceed due to “overwhelming evidence” that the practice “has led to thousands of unlawful stops.”

Sixfold increase over 10 years

New York City criminal-defense lawyer Steven Brill agrees with the NYCLU position and contends that stop-and-frisk has evolved as a product of political forces. He noted that in 2002, when Bloomberg took office, the police recorded about 97,000 stops, or less than one sixth the number projected to occur this year.

Steven Brill

“I don’t know how you explain it,” he says. “Certainly we’re not any worse off criminally here in New York City when we necessarily were in 2002. It’s staggering.”

He says there’s simply no evidence to support the claim made by Bloomberg that the practice deters crime.

“If you take that position, then you can’t lose as a politician or as a police commissioner. If you find something, you can say, ‘Hey look; it’s working.’ And if you don’t find something, you can say, ‘Look, it’s working; we’ve deterred them.’ It’s absurd. The Fourth Amendment, the last time I checked, was not meant to deter.”

Added Weapon for Criminal-Defense Lawyers

As a criminal-defense lawyer, however, Brill almost welcomes the stop-and-frisk data because he says it provides him an added weapon in court because the practice appears to be official departmental policy.

“As a defense lawyer, there’s now another whole line of questioning that is relevant and appropriate for these types of actions. Essentially, the questions can deal with the officer’s knowledge as to what his or her sergeant or lieutenant is telling them to do in terms of stop-and-frisk situations. We now have a good basis to get to the bottom of it in that fashion. If we determine that there is something to that — that they lacked suspicion or probable cause — but instead have this policy and are sort of trained to do this, that’s going to go a long way in trying to convince the court to suppress whatever contraband or illegality they discover. So I think it could be very relevant now in this line of work.”

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Meanwhile, for people who are stopped and questioned or frisked by a New York City cop, Brill recommends that they keep their cool and not do anything to make matters worse.
“I think the best you can do is express your reluctance, try to get the name of the officer, try to get a badge number, mark the time down, and contact a lawyer who’s dealing with the class action and get on the record with your own personal experience.”

Has NYCPD has gone too far with the Stop-and-Frisk policy? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below.

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