Floyd v. City of New York meant to put the stop in “stop-and-frisk.” Yet, vestiges of the racist police practice still haunt the “Big Apple” today, a decade after the final ruling. 

Police stops were under scrutiny during a City Council meeting this week and a federal monitor recently audited the NYPD’s now-banned interior patrols in privately owned apartments, finding the program is overwhelmingly terminated but potentially practiced in a few outlying precincts.

Technically speaking, “civilians” have the legal right to walk away from lower-level stops, but often people feel like they can’t do so. 

“These days, the NYPD is running rampant in my neighborhood in Washington Heights. Only about three months ago, Neighborhood Safety Officers rolled up on me and a group I was with,” said Samy Feliz, whose brother Allan Feliz was shot in the chest by the NYPD during a traffic stop in 2019. His brother was initially stopped for not wearing a seatbelt.

“One of the cops asked to search me, but he kept his hand on his gun the whole time,” he said. “I said yes because I felt like saying no could be deadly.”

In 2013, a federal court ruled that the New York Police Department (NYPD) disproportionately used stop-and-frisk practices to target Black and brown New Yorkers in the Floyd case. The court appointed a federal monitor and introduced body cams by 2017. By 2019, all beat cops were required to wear the cameras to increase transparency.

Speaker Adrienne Adams held a City Council hearing about public safety on March 27. At least 11 pieces of legislation were discussed regarding the police department’s transparency and reporting on person and vehicle stops, including civilian encounters, body cam footage, and policing practices and procedures. 

Adams sponsored Introduction 938, which requires the NYPD to provide the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) with direct access to all body cam footage.

“Police transparency and accountability are critical to address the racially disparate impacts of policing on Black communities and other communities,” said Adams. “Nationally and here in New York City, we know that there is far more work to be done to ensure more effective and just policing that keeps everyone safe. Continued police abuses and killings are occurring throughout the country, and New York is certainly not immune.”

Adams said that it was “misguided” to portray police transparency in conflict with accountability in public safety. Current policies have fallen short in terms of access to body-worn camera footage and NYPD oversight, and some state laws prevent the CCRB from viewing sealed records, she said.  

At the hearing, the families of victims of police killings, councilmembers and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams spoke about bills related to the How Many Stops Act. The Act involves Intros 586 and 538, which require “full reporting” on low-level NYPD interactions with civilians. Currently, the NYPD is only required to report on level 3 stops or stop-and-frisk. Advocates at the hearing testified that even low-level stops could be disproportionately targeting Black and brown people.

“The How Many Stops Act is a common sense, good government package that will bring much-needed transparency to the NYPD,” said Councilmember Crystal Hudson. “This package will give New Yorkers a more complete picture of the police department’s activities in our communities, mandate the full and accurate reporting of police interactions with the public, and ensure the NYPD is adhering to the City’s Right to Know Act, creating safer communities for us all.” 

Williams said that passing these bills is vital for advancing community safety and work he’s been doing since he was first elected more than a decade ago. He was adamant that a better discussion is needed about what policing is and how policing affects these communities.

“The ‘right to know’ includes the right to critical information about whether and how policing reforms are being implemented on the ground in our communities,” said Williams. “In a moment where the tragic results of law enforcement encounters gone wrong fill our headlines, our screens, and our minds, this legislation is urgent.”

Representatives for the NYPD at the hearing said that while they agree with the move toward transparency, they warn against the passage of the proposed bills. The NYPD said that the sheer “burden of documentation outweigh the benefits” would slow down investigations if each stop is recorded. If all body cam videos are declassified, it may not be appropriate for the public because some could involve information from a sealed case, and that there are already entities that report data. 

“While the NYPD does not oppose reporting on discipline, it should be known that these categories fall largely within the ambit of CCRB and are currently reported monthly by them,” said an NYPD rep. “Requiring the NYPD to report on the same redundant categories would be a misuse of valuable resources that provide no benefit beyond what CCRB currently provides.” 

For the fiscal year of 2022, the NYPD testified that the city paid more than $143 million in officer misconduct payouts.

Last month, the court-appointed monitor probed the NYPD’s Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP), which once allowed officers to enter and patrol select privately owned apartment buildings, giving them the greenlight to stop, expel and even arrest non-residents in common areas. A lawsuit alleged the initiative enabled stop-and-frisk practices and was settled in 2017, leading to the court-ordered addition of TAP to the Floyd federal monitor. The NYPD voluntarily scrapped the program in September 2020 and the auditors found the department overwhelmingly complied with the initiative’s shutdown.

But the report did suspect that two Brooklyn precincts—the 71st and 81st—engaged in TAP-esque patrols in formerly enrolled apartments between the end of 2020 and the start of 2021. The findings are based on arrest and summons records from such buildings after the program ended. The 120th Precinct in Staten Island also continued to conduct interior patrols in former TAP-enrolled buildings based on camera footage, although the report indicated the precinct was simply not properly informed and immediately ceased the practice after NYPD provided further training.

Then there’s the matter of antiquated infrastructure employed when TAP was active, most notably, signs announcing routine patrols—some dating all the way back to when the program was called “Operation Clean Halls”—are still up.

“When you have the signs up, plus you have officers [who] think that certain buildings [have] more high crime, then I think it signals out [to police],” said NYCLU senior staff attorney Daniel Lambright. “The existence of the sign saying that these buildings are still enrolled in TAP, as well as the institutional knowledge of this program that’s been around for over 30 years, creates a situation where these buildings are targeted for additional policing and possible unconstitutional policing.”

The NYCLU was one of the organizations involved in the 2017 settlement. While the TAP program is officially gone, the shutdown only affects privately owned, multi-tenant buildings. The NYPD can still randomly or routinely patrol NYCHA complexes. 

A police spokesperson disputed the report’s findings on the 71st and 81st Precinct, arguing 21 of the 29 encounters in former TAP-enrolled buildings were veritably not the result of random or routine interior patrols. 

“​​Officers have a duty to perform a due diligence investigation when responding to a call or investigating a complaint from a community member,” said the NYPD spokesperson over email. “For example, [if] officers responded to a 911 call of people fighting in front of the building but upon arrival, there [was] no altercation in front of the building, the officers should, if possible, enter the common areas of the building. 

“It is entirely reasonable and prudent with respect to public safety that the officers conduct an interior patrol under these circumstances. The monitor’s report indicates that such action would be inappropriate since the criminal predicate has abated.”

According to Lambright, buildings formerly involved with TAP frequently house majority Black and brown residents. The 71st Precinct encompasses southern Crown Heights, Wingate and Prospect Lefferts, while the 81st Precinct includes Bed-Stuy and Stuyvesant Heights. Both are in majority Black neighborhoods, according to the NYU Furman Center. 

“Even though we didn’t bring in explicit race, like 14th Amendment race claims, in our litigation, the underlying premise is the same as the bigger stop-and-frisk narrative, which is that these buildings [house] Black and brown people. [It] fits in with why these people were being stopped,” said Lambright. 

Author’s Note: Lambright’s title adjusted in story to reflect his senior position. The amount of police payout money was changed from billions to millions.

Ariama C. Long and Tandy Lau are Report for America corps members who write about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep them writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.

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