NEW YORK — The federal monitor overseeing changes to the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy said Thursday the reform effort is moving in a positive direction, but some officers now avoid making or documenting stops, possibly because they fear legal and departmental reproach.
"This effort has begun at a difficult and contentious period in police community relations," the monitor, Peter Zimroth, wrote in his first progress report. "This is also a moment of opportunity. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has acknowledged that the NYPD's overuse and misuse of stop, question and frisk helped to fuel mistrust between the NYPD and minority and immigrant communities, and recognized the need to repair the breach."
A federal judge ordered changes in 2013 after a class-action civil rights trial in which black and Hispanic men said they had been unfairly targeted by police because of their race. The judge found the department had unintentionally discriminated against minorities and ordered reforms, but she did not end the policy. The ruling and changes had been on holding pending appeals that were dropped by Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration. The monitor began work in earnest in November, and since then, and initial efforts have been on changes to the department's Patrol Guide and paperwork used in stops, and better training for new recruits on what constitutes a legal stop, he said.
Since the ruling, stops have plummeted from an all-time high in 2011 of 685,724. There were 46,235 in 2014, and for the first quarter of this year, there were only 7,135.
It's possible some of the decline is because officers are making stops without documenting them as required, or they're afraid of being wrongly disciplined for making a stop in the current climate of reform and focus on the civil rights of civilians. Part of his goal is to clarify areas of uncertainty for officers who are not confident or misinformed about what they are authorized to do, so they can make stops without fear of reproach, either from supervisors or the law, he wrote. The NYPD is aware of the problem and taking steps to fix it.
"We do not know the extent to which officers may be declining to make lawful, appropriate stops because of these uncertainties," he wrote. "To the extent it is happening, though, it is not a healthy state of affairs for police officers or communities."
The department said in a statement that it had initiated an audit in some precincts that showed stops had not been properly documented and revised training and developed enhanced auditing accordingly.
"It is of utmost importance to the NYPD that all stops are properly documented," the department said.
New drafts of the patrol guide that deal with stop and frisk and racial profiling have been submitted to the court for approval, and then will be disseminated among the officers. A new stop and frisk form has been written and is being piloted in seven commands. New training for recruits was approved and began on May 11, in addition to the three-day training that current officers received on how to de-escalate confrontations. Zimroth said that eventually all current officers will receive new training on how to make and document a legal stop.
The judge also ordered a body-worn camera program. The NYPD is already piloting the program, but Zimroth said there will be a second body-worn camera test done to comport with the judge's order.
The reforms also include changes ordered as a result of two other cases involving stops made outside of private and public housing.
The NYPD is the nation's largest department with more than 35,000 uniformed officers. The next largest is Chicago with about 13,000.