The former highest-ranking uniformed officer at the New York Police Department is testifying at a federal trial challenging the stop, question and frisk policy.
Joseph Esposito was chief of department until two weeks ago, when he retired because he reached the mandatory retirement age of 63. He has been the longest serving department chief at the NYPD.
A federal judge is hearing testimony on whether the practice of stop, question and frisk must be reformed. Lawyers for men who have sued the department say they were unjustly stopped because they are black or Hispanic.
Esposito said Tuesday that most of the stops are done correctly, and that the NYPD has the best officers and supervisors in the nation.
Earlier Tuesday, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said in a rally outside New York’s City Hall that ending the extensive use of stop and frisk is a top goal for the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.
“Stop and frisk is the largest local racial profiling program in the country,” Jealous said. “Shutting it down is a national priority for the NAACP.”
The NYPD has made 5 million of the stops in the past decade, fueling a debate that has reached what could prove a pivotal moment this year. While the City Council weighs proposals to create new rules for the stops and new oversight for the NYPD, a civil rights trial over the tactic is unfolding in federal court.
Tuesday’s demonstration was designed to keep up momentum toward passing new stop and frisk laws after City Council Speaker Christine Quinn agreed last month to support a related proposal: a plan to create an inspector general for the police. That plan, which has yet to crystallize into legislation, grew out of concerns about both stop and frisk and the department’s widespread surveillance of Muslims.
Civil rights leaders, city lawmakers, Muslim advocates and others at the rally stressed that they wanted to make sure reform didn’t stop with an inspector general.
“We’ve come a long way with the inspector general bill” but it’s also crucial to pass the others, City Councilman Jumaane Williams said.
Proponents are focusing on a measure that would give people more latitude to sue if they believe they were stopped because of their race, an idea critics say would open floodgates to litigation. Other provisions would require officers making stops to explain why and give their names.
Quinn said Tuesday she was continuing to negotiate with the advocates over the measures.
The Supreme Court has said it’s legal for police to stop, question and sometimes pat down people they believe are acting suspiciously, but who may not meet the probable-cause standard for an arrest. The federal trial seeks broad changes in how the NYPD can use the tactic.
Critics say it harasses innocent people and reflects racial profiling. More than 80 percent of those stopped are black or Hispanic.
The NYPD and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have said stop and frisk helps drive down crime and violence and the stops are based on valid suspicions, not racial profiling.
“Nobody likes to get stopped,” Bloomberg said last week, but “if it’s a question of stopping and annoying you or saving your life, I know which one we’re going to do.”