NEW YORK >> A federal monitor overseeing changes to the police department’s stop-and-frisk program said in a progress report Tuesday the department has done good work setting new policy but putting it into practice will be a challenge.
A federal judge ruled in 2013 that the practice of stopping people and frisking them violated the civil rights of minorities, many of whom sued. Monitor Peter Zimroth said in a report to the judge that the New York Police Department has distributed a new patrol guide that prohibits biased-based policing and put into use new training for recruits and current officers. A new stop-report form is being tested.
“The progress the report details owes much to the hard work of NYPD officials and valuable input from the plaintiffs,” Zimroth wrote. “All the parties worked diligently, collaboratively, and in good faith.”
But the challenge will be to ensure the written changes are carried out. Zimroth said he’s discovered in focus groups that many officers and higher-ups don’t understand what’s expected of them and are unaware of the changes. The message “needs to be communicated and reinforced better, not just at the top, but throughout the department,” he wrote.
Street stops were down to about 24,000 last year, from a high of 685,724 in 2011. Most of the people stopped are black and Hispanic men, and fewer than 10 percent are arrested. But the judge did not outlaw the practice, and Zimroth said that part of the reform must be to make sure the practice is done correctly.
“Getting it right means this: that police officers understand their lawful authority and limit their activities to what is permitted by law,” he wrote.
And it means officers don’t avoid enforcement activity when appropriate. He reported many officers feel concerned they will be sued or disciplined for making a stop. He said officers must also treat the community members professionally, “with dignity and respect.”
He said the task is large and will take time to accomplish.
At a federal trial, nearly a dozen black and Hispanic men told firsthand accounts of frightening encounters with police officers who stopped and sometimes frisked them but didn’t arrest them. They said they were targeted because they were minorities.
The NYPD, the nation’s biggest police department, said Zimroth’s report will help with its ongoing training program.
“The NYPD’s overall stop, question and frisk review continues to be a ‘work-in-progress’ in collaboration with the Monitor and other interested parties,” it said in a statement. “The Department’s training in connection with this issue is well underway both at the police academy recruit level as well as through our on-going in-service training in the various field commands.”
Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration dropped the city’s appeal of the case when he took office, and he and police Commissioner William Bratton have said the policy was overused and created mistrust between police and the community.