Stop-and-frisk a valuable tool, Hudson Valley cops say

New York City police officers demonstrate the stop-and-frisk New York City police officers demonstrate the stop-and-frisk tactic at a training facility at Rodman's Neck. (June 12, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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While the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy is getting national attention in a Manhattan courtroom this week, the verdict is in among many Hudson Valley police chiefs: The tactic is a valuable tool in deterring crime.

"You hear a lot about technology in police work now," said Peekskill Police Chief Eric Johansen. "But stop-and-frisk is good old-fashioned shoe-leather policing."

Officers receive extensive stop-and-frisk training -- both in the police academy and once they're on the job -- and they know they must have reasonable cause to detain someone, Johansen said.

His 60-member force, he noted, is skilled at targeting behavior, not race.

"We're fortunate that we have a city that's not so big that our police don't know where the trouble spots are and who the troublemakers are," Johansen said.

If police spot someone they don't recognize in an area known for trouble, they're likely to stop and question that person, which could escalate to a patdown for drugs or weapons, he explained.

The NYPD's use of the tactic is the subject of a federal class-action lawsuit that is being heard in U.S. District Court. Four black men charge in the lawsuit that the policy -- in which police stop, question and then often frisk people they encounter on the streets -- unfairly targets minorities. They are being represented by lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York City-based civil rights advocacy organization.

The NYPD denies the claims, saying the use of the stop-and-frisk tactic has helped reduce crime in the city to historic lows.

Hudson Valley police chiefs said they are closely following the case because their departmental training requires officers to keep abreast of court decisions relating to the issue.

In Mount Vernon, a city rocked by gun violence last year, with more than 20 shootings in addition to 10 homicides, Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Burke said he would like to see the department's 205-member force use the tactic more.

"I think it's underutilized here," said Burke, who is temporarily running the force until a commissioner is named. "It's a tool that may have prevented some of the shootings and violence we had last year. In a city like Mount Vernon, you need to use every tool at your disposal, and stop-and-frisk is a valuable and effective one."

Police in Newburgh, another violence-plagued Hudson Valley city, also see the tactic as a vital part of policing.

"Stop-and-frisk has been around for decades," said Newburgh Police Chief Michael Ferrara. "We have never had a problem or complaint."

Known criminals in known crime locations are the ones most likely to be stopped and frisked, he said.

"It takes guns off the streets; it takes felons off the streets," Ferrara said. "You can't just pick and choose who you're going to stop. You have to have intelligence ahead of time. It's not random."

Police have to have "reasonable cause" to stop and frisk someone, Ferrara said. That could include prior arrests, information from residents and known criminal associations, he said.

"Everybody has to know the law, and you operate within the confines of the law. That's where reasonable cause comes in," Ferrara said.

In Yonkers, police are trained in the use of the stop-and-frisk tactic and to adhere to the guidelines of the law -- which is written into New York's criminal procedure law, Yonkers Det. Lt. Patrick McCormack said.

"There is a lot of confusion on this because of the New York City lawsuit," he said. "It is a state law ... which our officers are trained in at the academy."

White Plains was the only city police department contacted by Newsday that does not use the tactic.

"We do not have stop, question and frisk," said White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong, who retired from the NYPD after 22 years in 2002. "We do, however, practice the police officer's common right to inquire when he or she is suspicious a possible crime" has occurred.

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