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NYPD's Kelly orders stop and frisk changes

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly responds to

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly responds to questions during a news conference. (Feb. 24, 2012) Credit: AP

NYPD officers who stop and search those they consider suspicious will face greater scrutiny about the encounters, police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Thursday.

From now on, Kelly said, each time an officer stops and frisks someone on the street, the executive officer -- the second highest ranking officer in the 76 precincts and special units -- will personally review the details.

Kelly's announcement came a day a federal judge criticized the stop and frisk program.

In a three-page memo responding to City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn's call for reform, Kelly outlined the NYPD efforts he hopes will "increase public confidence" in the procedures, including reminding officers that racial profiling is prohibited.

"I believe these measures will help us more closely monitor the daily street encounter activity of precinct personnel," Kelly said in the letter.

Other changes Kelly outlined include a course to train officers on how to conduct a stop. Officers are encouraged to hand out cards to those they stop listing common reasons why police stop and question people and the legal authority for doing so. The move, Kelly said, aims to ease tensions between the officers and individuals who are stopped. More than 1,500 officers who work in the highest crime areas are receiving the training, Kelly said, and more will follow.

For months, Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have defended the stop-and-frisk program, which both men said helped drive down crimes, particularly murders.

Critics, however, have said the majority of nearly 700,000 New Yorkers who were stopped, questioned and searched by police last year were black and Latinos.

The New York Civil Liberties Union analyzed police data and found that more than 87 percent of those stopped were blacks and Latinos, while only 9 percent were whites.

Quinn and public advocate Bill diBlasio, two Democratic contenders for the mayoral seat, joined the NYCLU and other community leaders in calling for reforms.

All the changes Kelly mentioned in the letter are "significant," Quinn said in a statement, but they don't go far enough.

"With these actions today, Commissioner Kelly and the NYPD are taking an important step forward; however, more must be done to significantly reduce the number of stops and to bridge the divide between the NYPD and the communities they serve."

Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan found "overwhelming evidence" that the stop-and-frisk program has led to thousands of unlawful stops and granted class-action status to a 2008 lawsuit. The lawsuit accused the NYPD of deliberately targeting black and Hispanic neighborhoods and said officers are punished if they don't meet their quota. Scheindlin's ruling allows more New Yorkers to join the lawsuit.

Nowhere in the letter did Kelly order officers to make fewer stops and critics say the measures he outlined are merely a response to the lawsuit and to growing public pressure.

"The mayor and the commissioner need to give up the spin and recognize that the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program is fundamentally broken," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. "The NYPD is out of control, and the culture and practices of the department need a full-scale overhaul so that the fundamental rights of all New Yorkers are respected and all communities can trust and respect the police."

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