Dominion of New York

Social Justice

January 9, 2013

NYPD Defends Stop-and-Frisk With Dumb Example

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Written by: Kelly Virella

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, Courtesy David Shankbone Wikimedia Commons


ou might be happy that a federal judge yesterday ordered the NYPD to curtail its stopping-and-frisking in the Bronx. But the NYPD is not. And they are using bad examples to try to prove that the judge is wrong.  

According to The New York Times, the NYPD defended the embattled program by saying it detects illegal guns:

Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, said the program led to several recent arrests for illegal guns. On Dec. 16, the police arrested a man with a handgun on the rooftop of a residential building in the Bronx.

On Nov. 21, officers recovered a handgun after observing the gun’s butt protruding from a man’s jacket pocket as they patrolled a fourth-floor hallway in a building on East 220th Street.

We’ve heard it before. And those of us who follow this stuff know police love to exaggerate how many guns they find through stop-and-frisk.   It’s rare and by rare, I mean police found weapons on only 1.8 percent of blacks and Latinos frisked, as compared to 3.8 percent of whites frisked, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union Report

But even if every stop turned up a gun, Browne’s argument would be irrelevant. Why? Because the ruling allows police to continue stopping people they reasonably suspect are committing a crime and frisking those they suspect are carrying guns. If police make a lawful stop, and see a gun butt protruding from a man’s jacket pocket, they continue to have every right to stop, frisk, and arrest that man if he is carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. 

The police are playing a game of smoke and mirrors with this ruling, because they don’t want us to see the real import of it.

The name of this case is Ligon v. City of New York and it’s about the constitutionality of the stop-and-frisks the NYPD conducts in connection with the Trespass Affidavit Program, TAP. The program allows police to patrol the thousands of enrolled Bronx apartment buildings and arrest trespassers. The problem, Judge Shira Scheindlin found, is that police were stopping-and-frisking people outside the building without having a reasonable suspicion that they were trespassers. That’s a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. And while some conservatives may say it’s not a big deal unless you are doing something illegal, it actually is. When police stop people unlawfully and ask them to empty their pockets, it has domino effects that can lead to arrests, even when the person is behaving lawfully. Following police orders during a frisk, an untold number of people have removed a small lawful amount of marijuana from their pockets, only to be arrested by police for breaking the law by placing the marijuana in plain view. 

The ruling in Ligon v. City of New York requires police to have an actual basis for suspecting that a person is trespassing before stopping them. And that basis can’t be that the person is a young black male wearing sneakers or Timberlands, a hoodie and sagging pants. Nor can it be the “furtive movements” police often blame for arousing their suspicions.

Scheindlin is considering having the NYPD write a formal policy “specifying the limited circumstances in which it is legally permissible to stop a person outside a TAP building on a suspicion of trespass.” Whatever the new policy is, I’m pretty sure it will ban the thinly veiled racial profiling that is business-as-usual.


About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


Retired NYPD Officer Howard Henderson spoke out against the misuse of stop-and-frisk. Photo by Amanda Moses.
Talib Kweli at the 2009 Rocks the Bells music festival in Calgary, Canada. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Duncan Kinney.

Talib Kweli Speaks Out Against Stop-and-Frisk