As New York City looks set to settle with civil liberties groups over the Police Department’s long-standing and contentious policy of stopping, questioning and frisking people on the street, new data shows that complaints of stop and frisk have declined in recent months — but they haven’t gone away just yet.
The data — shared with Bedford + Bowery by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the agency that handles complaints of police misconduct — shows that allegations of stop and frisk have declined in most of North Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan year-over-year. The CCRB got 46 complaints of stop and frisk encounters in Williamsburg’s 90th Precinct in 2012, for example, and only 19 complaints in 2013. There were 98 allegations of stop and frisk in Bushwick’s 83rd Precinct in 2012, and that number declined to 54 in 2013.
Given such reductions, it’s easy to see why new NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has said, “The problem has been more or less solved.” But the most recent data available from the CCRB, from January 2014, shows a relatively small number of complaints are still popping up. Williamsburg saw four complaints of stop and frisk in January 2014, after zero complaints in the same month in 2013. And the Lower East Side’s 7th Precinct, which also saw zero allegations of the practice in January 2013 or in January 2012, made 10 complaints in the first month of this year.
Priscilla Gonzalez of Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy group that campaigns to end “discriminatory policing” in New York City, says it will take more than a few months to halt the policy of stop and frisk.
“This new administration has taken constructive steps that move us closer,” said Gonzalez, “but it has not begun yet and was delayed by the previous administration’s obstruction.”
Earlier this month, five police unions filed to block the city’s settlement over stop and frisk.
The policy, a creation of the Giuliani administration, is now being reformed by new mayor Bill de Blasio. At a January news conference, De Blasio called the practice “one of the most divisive problems” in New York and one that “unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.”
But don’t expect the practice to disappear entirely: in a radio interview this week, Bratton said stop and frisk was necessary, though it had been overused, and practiced by inexperienced and poorly supervised officers.
CCRB, which says about a quarter of all complaints it dealt with over the eight years were stop and frisk, advises New Yorkers on its website on how to handle such an encounter: “stay calm and don’t move around a lot,” “keep your hands visible and still,” “speak respectfully” — and then report the incident to the agency for investigation.