New York official moves to limit police stops

February 29, 2012
Edith Honan

(Reuters) - A black New York City councilman who said he has been stopped by police on numerous occasions introduced a set of bills on Wednesday aimed at curbing the controversial crime-fighting tactic known as "stop and frisk."

The bills would require officers to identify themselves and present a business card when stopping a person, and to inform targets of their right to refuse a search. A third bill would expand the number of groups protected from racial profiling.

"I've definitely had numerous interactions with police that I believe I would not have had if it wasn't for the color of my skin or how I look," said Councilman Jumaane Williams, who represents the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, which includes a large Caribbean population.

It was unclear whether the bill would garner wide support on the City Council. Williams was joined by several other council members on Wednesday at a news conference on the steps of City Hall.

The announcement came as activists announced the formation of a new group called Communities United for Police Reform, which aims to educate people in minority areas about their rights when they are stopped by police.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have come under fire in recent weeks with charges of overly aggressive policing, including recent reports by the Associated Press that police have spied on Muslims in the New York area.

Improving public safety has been a priority for Bloomberg, who came to office in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

According to the New York Police Department, 684,330 "Stop, Question and Frisk" reports were filed in 2011, a 14 percent increase from 2010. There were about 100,000 stops in 2001 under Rudy Giuliani's administration, though police say this is in part because more stops are now formally reported

In 2011, six percent of the stops resulted in a summons and six percent resulted in an arrest, the department said.

The NYPD figures showed that just over half of those stopped were black, and about one-third were Latino. Fewer than one in ten of those stopped were white.

Police spokesman Paul Browne said that since Bloomberg took office a decade ago, there have been 5,430 murders in the city, compared to 11,058 murders during the previous decade.

"That's a remarkable achievement -- 5,628 lives saved -- attributable to proactive policing strategies that included stops," Browne said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union looks at the same data and says it raises serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights.

"Today a package of landmark legislation is being introduced that will add an important measure of accountability to police operations," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.

She said the bills would "for the first time make the NYPD accountable for practices, like stop and frisk, that have a disproportionate impact on communities of color."

The NYPD has consistently rejected charges of racial profiling, and Browne noted that stops correlate closely to the ethnicity of crime suspects.

Last September, Williams was handcuffed and held briefly during Brooklyn's West Indian Day parade while using a partially closed sidewalk to get to an event. While the incident was not formally a stop and frisk, Williams has evoked the incident as an example of what black and Latino New Yorkers endure daily.

"I am not anti-NYPD," Williams said at the news conference. "I am pro-better policing and safer streets.

Williams said he hopes to introduce more bills -- including one that would create an Inspector General's office and improve the police reporting requirements -- in the next few months.

(Reporting By Edith Honan; Editing by Paul Thomasch)

Topics: Stop-and-Frisk Community Safety Act