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The next steps forward: Additional training and transparency from NYPD

Jumaane D. Williams and Kirsten John Foy | 9/14/2011, 6:41 p.m.

The incident on Labor Day was eye-opening for many New Yorkers, but for us, as well as hundreds of thousands of young Black and Latino men across the five boroughs, it is a situation we know all too well. It is true that this event involved only a select number of police officers, and that an overwhelming majority of this city's cops are good and just. However, these officers are sadly indicative of a police culture that unfairly targets communities of color.

We were fortunate because we are government officials, but because we are privileged, it is incumbent upon us to use this opportunity to advance much-needed reform of the New York City Police Department, including the stop, question and frisk (SQF) policy.

One important change would be to the way the NYPD releases information to the public. The available data from COMPSTAT is extremely limited, handicapping efforts to evaluate racial and ethnic disparities in policing. The NYPD is notorious for its repeatedly brazen rejections of Freedom of Information Law requests seeking data on everything from SQFs to arrests in public schools. By requiring the NYPD to collect, analyze and publish its youth arrest statistics, we could establish metrics of accountability that identify and track such disparities existing in the juvenile justice system.

Additionally, we would like to see greater transparency in the investigations associated with police misconduct cases. An evaluative system would go a long way toward this kind of openness. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pushed for metrics systems in other city agencies, but he continues to remain silent on one for the NYPD. Unfortunately, state law specifically exempts police, fire and corrections personnel records from disclosure. This needs to change. If transparency is good enough for other agencies, it should be good enough for the NYPD.

With access to arrest data and a method for measurement, we would have the tools to effectively tackle the abuse of the SQF policy. We must invert the current system, which places an emphasis on cops producing a quantity of UF-250s (the form used to document SQFs) rather than a higher quality of policing. Instead of the current form, which enables officers to make general accounts of their reasoning for the stop, we need a form that encourages a thoughtful rationale for each SQF. Instead of accountability for how many are conducted, there must be accountability for the quality of the stops that are made.

To that end, police must be trained to identify high-quality SQFs, as well how to de-escalate potential situations and maintain a posture of strength through respect of persons and property. Studies show that when police explain their rationale and the law to individuals involved in non-life- or property-threatening situations, they tend to achieve greater compliance in that instance and future instances.

Both dialogue and engagement are key to successful de-escalation, and proper command and control that emphasizes these over force and authority are crucial elements to achieving success in immediate and long-term relations.

The mayor mentioned last week that the "misunderstanding" could be solved by a beer summit between us and the officers involved in the Labor Day incident. It should be clear to the mayor and others that this issue is far bigger than the two of us, and is certainly bigger than a couple of brews.

For true amends to be made, a meeting is needed with the young Black and Latino men of this city who suffer discrimination every day at the hands of the NYPD. They who lack the media attention we currently possess have their reputations and futures at stake. They, and this city, anxiously await his response to this invitation.

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams represents the 45th Council District, which covers Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands and parts of Midwood and Canarsie. He is the chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee and the co-vice chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. He was first elected to office in 2009.

Kirsten John Foy is the director of community relations for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. He is the former national director of the Criminal Justice Initiative for the National Action Network.