A federal judge ruled Monday that the New York Police Department’s practice of stopping and frisking people suspected of criminal activity violated the Constitution by amounting to “indirect racial profiling” of young black and Hispanic men in disproportionate numbers.
Stop-and-frisk is a tool used by police departments around the country, but the practice has gained attention in New York City due to an escalated number of stops by the NYPD since 2003, largely resulting from the efforts of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Officers can stop passers-by if they suspect a drug transaction, if a person fits a suspect description, if they see clothing, objects or bulges that are suspicious or if they observe “furtive movement.”
Bloomberg plans to appeal Judge Shira Scheindlin’s decision, citing the drop in crime that has accompanied more widespread use of the tactic as proof of its validity. The issue has drawn the attention of the vast field of mayoral candidates in the city as well, but not everyone agrees with the judge’s decision.
John Timoney, a former chief of police for New York, Miami and Philadelphia, called into The Michael Smerconish Program on POTUS Politics to explain the rationale behind the 4.3 million stops NYPD officers have made between 2004 and 2012 and to respond to the verdict.
“When you look at the gross number, you say, ‘Oh my God, that’s a lot of people.’ But when you break it down to the size of our police force, the size of the city, it averages out to one stop a week per uniformed police officer,” Timoney said. “The problem is, and this is reflective of American society, any time you have something that has a racial impact, racial tinge, it’s always going to set nerves a flutter.”
The judge’s decision was influenced by the statistic that 48.3 percent of stops of African-Americans were based on the vague category “furtive movement” rather than a concrete suspicion, while only 39.9 percent of stops of whites were. Timoney attributed this difference partly to weaknesses among individual police officers.
“I’ve been dealing with police officers for 40 years, and they are notorious for being awful report writers, notorious for taking shortcuts. They’re notorious often for writing out things actually they probably don’t understand. What is a furtive movement? I have a certain thing in mind that I would think my expectation of may differ from a different cop. A lot of these things don’t sit neatly into a check-off-the-box situation,” Timoney said.
“It’s not an excuse. I’m just trying to explain a police perspective on some of this,” he added.
Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson also discussed stop-and-frisk with Michelangelo Signorile on SiriusXM Progress. Thompson, who is black, has spoken out against the racial profiling that results from stop-and-frisk, but said he would allow officers to use the tool in a more limited way as mayor.
“Stop-and-frisk as a policing tool, when used correctly, is not wrong. What it has become under Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly is a policy, and that is wrong,” Thompson said, adding that he would end the use of quotas in the police force. “We have to be able to get guns off the streets, and stop-and-frisk is one of the tools that can be used to get guns off the streets to keep black and Latino communities and all communities safe.”
Most other Democratic mayoral candidates also agreed with the ruling, and Comptroller John Liu has called for a ban on stop-and-frisk all together, to Timoney’s disapproval.
“There’s one mayoral candidate in New York saying it should be abolished. That guy should be abolished. He doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about,” Timoney said.
Listen to the full interviews for Timoney’s defense of Kelly and more of Thompson’s reaction to the racial element of the stop-and-frisk decision.