The NYPD might not need to sift through your pockets during a stop-and-frisk. They could scan you for weapons instead–and then frisk you if necessary.
Last week, the NYPD presented a scanner device small enough to fit on street corners and go unnoticed with the purpose of reading terahertz radiation (energy emitted by both humans and inanimate objects). The goal? To detect weapons on a person, therefore giving the cops a reason to stop, question and frisk the individual. The scanner would be able to see anything blocking energy coming off of a person, like a gun.
The NYPD hopes that testing in high-crime areas will begin as soon as possible, but civil liberties groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), have already spoken out against the potential practice, calling it another violation of a person’s civil rights. They also believe that false positives can arise from the scanner and lead to searches without probable cause or unjustified stops. However, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, told the AmNews that anything that could potentially reduce the number of stop-and-frisks might be something worth learning about.
“Any technology that allows police to peer into a person’s body or possessions raises a lot of questions that have yet to be resolved,” said Lieberman. “But to the extent that this technology reduces the abuse of stop-and-frisk that harms hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers every year, we’re intrigued by the possibilities.”
A recently released poll from Quinnipiac University showed that the majority of New Yorkers disapprove of stop-and-frisk. While the NYPD didn’t respond to AmNews requests for comment, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defended the practice during a recent talk at the 92nd Street Y when pushed on the issue by Thomson Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler.
“Some of my impression of it comes less from the statistics than just having African-American colleagues over the years talking about how different it is walking the streets of New York if you’re Black rather than if you’re white … and the feeling that you’re treated very differently,” stated Adler.
“I wouldn’t want to be stopped, I don’t want my time taken away from me,” replied Kelly. “But if you look at the numbers, the lives that have been saved, I think it is dramatic. And where is it happening? It’s happening in minority communities.”
But to people like Joo-Hyun Kang, spokesperson for the advocacy group Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), the Quinnipiac study is proof that the city and the cops don’t see eye to eye.
“The NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk continues to face disapproval throughout our city, as a majority of Democratic, Black and Latina/o voters and a plurality of women voters indicated in this recent Quinnipiac Poll,” said Kang in an emailed statement. “New Yorkers understand constitutional rights, and they know that daily stop-and-frisk abuse and harassment of communities does not make us any safer.
“Instead of defending ineffective and discriminatory stop-and-frisks and continuing to be forced by federal courts to reform their unlawful policies and practices, Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly would be better served to work with the City Council to pass the Community Safety Act and implement reforms to end discriminatory policing and improve accountability for the NYPD,” concluded Kang.