Trial Provides Window into NYPD Practices

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The appeal of Serrano’s evaluation is then declared over, with his superiors suggesting he needs more training.

The ongoing trial is creating an uncomfortable spotlight for a department more accustomed to bragging about its crime-fighting prowess and a drop in crime to levels not seen since the 1960s. Several top brass are expected to testify in the coming weeks, including Chief of Department Joseph Esposito and Paul Browne, the deputy commissioner for public information and a close adviser to Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Kelly have hailed “stop and frisk” as a program that has deterred crime and saved lives by taking weapons off of would-be killers and by making crooks reconsider carrying weapons in the first place.

But the trial has exposed how in practice, the tactic creates often messy and difficult encounters between police and the public. So far, men have testified that they were stopped and frisked by officers as they went about their lives — getting milk at a store, walking home, going to a party. The men say they were doing nothing wrong and felt victimized by overzealous officers.

One man who testified, Nicholas Peart, described an encounter in which officers swarmed, pointed their weapons and told him and two relatives to get down on the ground late on the night of his 18th birthday. According to police radio calls, the officers were looking for robbery suspects who resembled the three men. But Peart was scared and felt harassed — and didn’t think police had enough reason to stop him. No one was arrested.

Most officers believe they are stopping someone for a purpose — namely because a crime has occurred, and most crime suspects in New York City are black and Hispanic.

The department has made about 5 million stops in the past decade, mostly young black and Hispanic men. Only about 10 percent were arrested and few weapons are actually recovered, leaving many let go feeling angry and humiliated. They include the four plaintiffs, who contend they were wrongly targeted because of their race.

The suit, now a class-action case, is seeking to reform the tactic, which is legal under a 1968 Supreme Court decision.

The nonjury trial is being heard by U.S. District Court Judge Shira Schiendlin, who has the power to order changes that may substantially alter the department’s methods. She has already expressed concern over the tactic in previous rulings.

McCormack is expected to testify later in the trial. But thanks to the tape, the judge already is familiar with his voice. She’s heard him tell the officer that his goal is to allow honest citizens to go about their business without fear of violence.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people in this community are great, hardworking people, who deserve to walk to the train, walk to their car, walk to the store,” he said.

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