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Stop-and-Frisk Searches

by Jerome Chou, May 01, 2000
 

Stop-and-frisk searches, one of the most controversial police tactics of recent years and a hallmark crime-fighting tactic of the Giuliani-era, are under scrutiny again. Investigators for the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) have charged that police officers regularly fail to file the required paperwork after they search people on the street.

The CCRB began reviewing more than 1700 stop-and-frisk complaints in March 1999, shortly after the Amadou Diallo shooting, then narrowed its sample to 228 cases in which the Board had conducted a full investigation. Of these, the Board found that written search reports, or UF250s, had been filled out in only about half of the cases. The reports, which are supposed to record the time, place, reason for and results of each search, are meant to ensure some level of police accountability, as well as to protect officers from accusations of misconduct.

The CCRB's findings, contained in a 54-page draft report obtained by the New York Times, echo a similar report issued by state attorney general Eliot Spitzer which accused the NYPD of unfairly targeting black and Hispanic New Yorkers for stop-and-frisk searches. CCRB chairman Frank Wohl cautioned that the draft report was "extremely preliminary" and yet to be discussed by the full Board.

Perhaps more than any other police tactic, stop-and-frisk searches bitterly divide tough-on-crime advocates from those who feel the war on crime has gone too far. Aggressive searches have led to increased gun and drug seizures, and are widely credited with lowering crime rates, but many minority residents consider these searches a threat--at any moment they may be subjected to a humiliating invasion of privacy, though they have committed no crime. Tracking searches, however, may be a quixotic task. Paperwork is generally a dirty word within the NYPD's ranks; for many officers, filing reports is an unnecessary burden (see 5/1 Commentary).

Police Commissioner Howard Safir declined to comment on the CCRB's findings, telling reporters through a spokesperson "It's inappropriate to respond to a report we have not received."

Definitions

Stop-and-frisk: patting down the outside of a suspect's clothing, feeling for a weapon

Search: reaching inside a suspect's pockets or other interior parts of clothing to determine if an object felt is a weapon.

Missing Searches?

Police Action

Complaints

UF250 filed

Percentage

Frisk

228

135

59%

Search

54

18

33%

Frisk & Search

85

38

45%

Arrest

168

33

20%

Jerome Sounds Off:

To Mayor Giuliani, police coverage in the Times means more cop-bashing stories. But beat writer Kevin Flynn has published a number of articles from behind the Blue Wall, including one last month on the deteriorating conditions at the City's 76 precinct houses: crumbling walls, decrepit plumbing and electrical systems, overcrowded offices, and a backlog of thousands of repair orders.

With its numbers growing by 25% to 40,000 over the past decade, the NYPD has found itself competing with the Board of Education and other agencies for limited building maintenance funds. Now the City has earmarked over $40 million over the next four years to build two new Brooklyn station houses and renovate the Central Park station house. And Police Commissioner Howard Safir recently announced the Department would spend an additional $5 million to improve building maintenance.

The biggest story here, however, may be the timing of the Times article. This isn't the first time someone has sounded the alarm about the NYPD's falling buildings; Alan Hevesi described many of the same conditions, and recommended extensive renovations, in a 1998 report. And an additional $5 million for repairs is a drop in the bucket compared to the NYPD's $3 billion 2000 budget. But for a Department whose strategies have been repeatedly questioned this year, a report on spending priorities may have been in order.

Jerome Chou is a freelance writer. He works part-time interviewing recently released ex-offenders about their re-entry into society.


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