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NEW YORK – New York City’s reliance on the tactic known as “stop and frisk” as part of a new initiative to combat gun violence is harming communities of color and running afoul of the law, a court-appointed federal monitor reported Monday.
Monitor Mylan Denerstein said the NYPD’s Neighborhood Safety Teams — special units deployed in the past 14 months to seize guns in high-crime areas — were engaging in “unconstitutional policing” by stopping and frisking too many people without justification.
In one police precinct, Denerstein said, only 41 percent of stops, 32 percent of frisks and 26 percent of searches were lawful.
The Neighborhood Safety Teams, a replacement for the anti-crime units that the NYPD disbanded in 2021, operate in 34 areas that account for 80% of the city’s violent crime — largely communities of color. Of the people the teams have stopped, Denerstein said, 97% are Black or Hispanic.
A spokesperson for Mayor Eric ams said city officials “have serious concerns” with Denerstein’s methodology and that they only learned of her findings after news outlets reported on them.
The spokesperson, Fabien Levy, said shootings have fallen since the Neighborhood Safety Teams were created.
Officers assigned to the units “have enhanced training and oversight to ensure we are not only keeping New Yorkers safe, but protecting their civil liberties as well,” Levy said, adding that “any unconstitutional stop is unacceptable, and we will strive to do better for New Yorkers every day.”
Denerstein said she began her review after ams announced in March 2022 that the NYPD was deploying Neighborhood Safety Teams in some precincts to combat gun violence. Team members, wearing modified uniforms and driving unmarked cars, conduct stops, frisks and searches in their assigned neighborhoods.
“Unfortunately, the results are disappointing,” Denerstein wrote.
Despite their training and experience, officers assigned to Neighborhood Safety Teams “overall appear to be stopping, frisking, and searching individuals at an unsatisfactory level of compliance. Too many people are stopped, frisked, and searched unlawfully.”
In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD had violated the civil rights of Black and Hispanic New Yorkers with stop and frisk, which was part of an effort to get guns and drugs off the street by frequently stopping and searching people on the street.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled the stops were a form of indirect racial profiling. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, once a champion of the tactic, has since apologized for its use.
Since the ruling, the department claimed a sharp drop in stops, reporting an average of around 11,730 per year from 2016 to 2022, compared with a high of nearly 686,000 stops in 2011.
Black and Hispanic people continue to be the targets of the vast majority of stops, accounting for 89% of all stops in 2022, according to NYPD data compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The NYPD eliminated its plainclothes anti-crime units in 2021 police amid a nationwide reckoning over police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.
The disbanded NYPD units, responsible for a disproportionate number of shootings and complaints, were involved in the 2014 death of Eric Garner and have long been criticized for aggressive tactics.
Samah Sisay, a Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer who represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to Scheindlin’s ruling, said the Neighborhood Safety Teams should also be eliminated.
“Anti-crime units rebranded as neighborhood safety teams are not a real solution to creating the safe communities that New Yorkers desire and should be disbanded,” Sisay said. “These units are almost exclusively deployed into Black and Latinx communities where they are conducting unlawful stops and engaged in the same racial profiling that New Yorkers have been organizing against for decades.”
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