The New York City Police Department is continuing its practice of unconstitutional stop and frisks, overwhelmingly targeting people of color, a decade after a federal judge ruled the police department’s system of searching mostly Black and Hispanic men on the streets of the city without reasonable suspicion amounted to racial discrimination, according to a new report by a court-appointed monitor.
The report filed Monday by independent NYPD monitor Mylan Denerstein found that the department’s Neighborhood Safety Teams — which were rolled out last year under Mayor Eric Adams and his then-newly installed Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell to combat a spike in shootings — didn’t have legal justification to make stops in about a quarter of the cases. More than 97% of those stopped were Black or Latino, the report said.
The Neighborhood Safety Teams’ officers, who wear modified uniforms, were deployed to high-crime areas and replaced the plainclothes anti-crime units that were disbanded in 2020 under allegations of widespread misconduct.
Calling the results “disappointing,” the report called the department’s oversight by its precinct-level supervisors — sergeants, lieutenants, and commanding officers —“inadequate at all levels” and said it will conduct a more comprehensive audit as a result.
“The Monitor team reviewed a random sample of the NSTs’ stop reports and body-worn camera videos,” the report said. “Unfortunately, the results are disappointing. Despite training and experience, NST officers overall appear to be stopping, frisking, and searching individuals at an unsatisfactory level of compliance. Too many people are stopped, frisked, and searched unlawfully.”
Adams spokesman Fabian Levy responded to the report in an email: “As we have previously shared with the monitor, we have serious concerns with the methodology used here. However, the facts are clear: Before Mayor Adams and NYPD Commissioner Sewell came into office, citywide shootings were up by double digits, but, following the creation of the Neighborhood Safety Teams in March 2022, shootings have consistently fallen and were down by double digits last year, and that trend has continued into 2023 … Of course, any unconstitutional stop is unacceptable and we will strive to do better for New Yorkers every day.”
The NYPD said it is reviewing the report and issued a statement saying, "The Department disagrees with the conclusions of the Monitor with respect to some of the encounters the team reviewed. NSTs engage with the public lawfully and constitutionally, and since the implementation of the program they have been instrumental in the reduction of shootings and homicides that the City is experiencing."
The monitor examined reports and body camera footage from officers on the Neighborhood Safety Teams during a six-month time period from April 2022 to October 2022 in the 25th and 32nd precincts in Harlem, the 41st and 42nd precincts and PSA7, which polices NYCHA housing in the Bronx, the 67th and 77th precincts in Brooklyn, the 105th and 113th precincts in Queens and the 120th Precinct on Staten Island.
The report said the monitor found officers had reasonable suspicion — the legal standard required to stop, question and frisk an individual — for 139 of the 184 stops — or 76%.
The instances of unconstitutional stops is nine percentage points higher than the departmentwide compliance rate that the monitor found in 2020, the report said.
The report found that stops were made on the basis of information from anonymous sources, without corroboration; an officer’s observation of a “bulge” in a person’s clothing; because a person looked at officers and then changed directions and encounters in which the officer’s stated reason for the stop was “inconsistent” with body-camera video.
In one example of an unconstitutional stop cited in the report, a man was stopped on the evening of July 7, 2022 without reasonable suspicion and asked why he was hiding his bag — a fanny pack that was strapped around his chest. The man told police he wasn’t hiding it, but was putting away his money after buying something.
With Anthony M. DeStefano