The NYPD has been down this road before. After the killing in 1999 of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who was shot at over 40 times by NYPD officers who were part of the city wide task force the Street Crimes Unit. Attention was then focused on the NYPD taskforce whose motto of “we own the night” specialized in stop and frisk/harass tactics under the guise of removing hand guns from the streets. This incident helped bring the pre-curser class action lawsuit to the current “Floyd” case, an active coalition of community groups and massive community outrage against the police tactics that led to the killing. Community and legal groups worked hard to secure a victory of dismantling the street crimes unit, a victory that was ultimately successful at least in appearance. The special city wide police-task force was dismantled only to be reconstituted under individual borough command. In effect creating 5 mini street crimes units with different names. It was post the break-up of the Street Crimes Unit when the massive jump in “official” stops became prevalent.
The fear should be that history will repeat itself. The judge’s decision by no means outlaws the stop and frisk tactic and more importantly the police still believe that it gains them great dividends in its use to show certain communities “who owns the night.” The NYPD will now shift gears, its interest will no longer be in highlighting numbers collection under the “Compstat” regime of using data blips to showcase crime fighting. After a decade of recording a record amount of stops most of the racially profiled acquired data has already been collected and is easily retrievable for future purposes. The judge’s decision did not demand the expungement of the literally millions of illegally gathered information of those stopped. Information collected during that time and what will continue to be collected at a slower pace will be stored by the NYPD without any agreement on how it can or if it should be used.
But beyond the numbers, the tactic of stopping black and brown people will not be abandoned by the NYPD. The culture of the NYPD (like all large top-down quasi military units) is about control. I’ve always said when I worked on these issues as both an activist and attorney that the reported stop and frisk is the tip of the iceberg. The issue is the tactic itself that allows for the discretionary ability of the police to stop and frisk without any real discernible legal standard. This tactic as allowed under the 1968 Supreme Court Case “Terry v. Ohio” gave the police great powers to intrude on people in public eroding basic civil liberties during a time of great social unrest. Terry created a legal structure that allowed the police to make stops based on the ability to articulate a “suspicion of criminal activity” and the “totality of the circumstance”. In individual cases the police officers word against individuals of color usually suffices to validate any stop. That ability has not changed. Reporting on stops will now be discouraged but the shadowy world of street level police behavior in Black and Latino communities will continue, just ask the young people on the block if they will notice a difference.