The federal monitor overseeing changes to the New York Police Department’s stop-question-frisk policy said Thursday in his first progress report that some officers now avoid making or documenting stops because they fear legal and departmental reproach.
“This effort has begun at a difficult and contentious period in police community relations,” the monitor, Peter Zimroth, wrote. “This is also a moment of opportunity. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has acknowledged that the NYPD’s overuse and misuse of stop, question and frisk helped to fuel mistrust between the NYPD and minority and immigrant communities, and recognized the need to repair the breach.”
A federal judge ordered changes in 2013 after a class-action civil rights trial in which plaintiffs said they had been unfairly targeted by police because of their race.
The monitor began work in November, and since then, initial work has been on changes to the department’s Patrol Guide and paperwork used in stops, and better training for new recruits on what constitutes a legal stop, he said.
Since the ruling, stops have plummeted from an all-time high in 2011 of 685,724. There were 46,235 in 2014, and for the first quarter of this year, there were only 7,135. The diminished number does not fix the problem, and it’s not his job to determine whether there are too many or too few stops, Zimroth wrote.
And, he said, it’s possible some of the decline is because officers are making stops without documenting them as required, or they’re afraid of being wrongly disciplined for making a stop in the current climate of reform and focus on the civil rights of civilians.
Part of his goal is to clarify areas of uncertainty for officers who are not confident or misinformed about what they are authorized to do, so they can make stops without fear of reproach, either from supervisors or the law. The NYPD is aware of the problem and taking steps to fix it, he said.
“We do not know the extent to which officers may be declining to make lawful, appropriate stops because of these uncertainties,” he wrote. “To the extent it is happening, though, it is not a healthy state of affairs for police officers or communities.”