As two police officers took the stand Wednesday in the Manhattan federal trial regarding the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, a newly released memo shows that the city police department has already made major alterations to how the practice is documented.
The department letter, which is dated March 5 and was sent out to every officer in the city, orders "all uniformed members" to describe in their own words in reports why a person who is stopped and frisked is considered suspicious.
Critics of the policy, including those who are suing the NYPD in federal court, say that the practice is an institutionalized form of racial profiling, as the majority of New Yorkers who are stopped and frisked are black and Latino males.
Before the change, police reporting a stop-and-frisk only needed to check a box on a form to describe why the stop was made.
Now, an officer who checks off a box on a form, such as "furtive moment," must also describe what he or she observed.
This particular change to the controversial policy was one of the main reforms plaintiffs' lawyers were seeking in the federal trial.
"What the memo literally says is what we've been asking for for more than 10 years, which is that the documentation of the stop information needs to be more detailed and more narrative, so that somebody can actually tell by looking at the form whether or not there was reasonable suspicion to make the stop," said Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
"It's part of what the relief is were seeking in this case, and it's not coincidental," said Jonathan Moore, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Charney said Wednesday that the policy change is an "avoidance tactic" on the NYPD's part, so that the department would not have to be forced by the court to make changes.
"The documentation of the stop information needs to be more detailed and more narrative, so that somebody can actually tell by looking at the form whether or not there was reasonable suspicion to make a stop," Charney said. "That has not been the case, as I said, for about 10 years. We've asked dozens of officers and sergeants about this and deposition at a trial. All of them say, 'Yeah, we don't have to do that. We can if we want. We don't have to do it.'"
The NYPD says the stop and frisk program is an important crime fighting tool and is non-discriminatory, but the vast majority of those stopped each year are black or Hispanic men.
The issue of why officers stop certain people is at the heart of the case, brought on behalf of four plaintiffs, all black men, who say they were unlawfully stopped and frisked based on their race.
Lawyers questioned four members of the police department Wednesday. All of them acknowledged inconsistencies, errors and incorrect information in the documentation they'd submitted for stop-and-frisk incidents.
"These are not minor mistakes," Charney said. "They are making mistakes about the reason they stopped somebody, and that really goes to the heart of whether or not there is a constitutional violation."
One officer acknowledged telling a 13-year-old boy who had been stopped, frisked and handcuffed in March 2010 to "stop crying like a little girl" as they were driving to the station house. His supervisor, who was also there, maintained that they had probable cause to stop the boy, Devin Almonor, because they'd seen him break a law: by jaywalking.
Meanwhile, opponents of the NYPD's stop and frisk policy rallied outside of the federal courthouse Wednesday.
They say practices like stop-and-frisk and surveillance programs amount to everyday harassment.
"The NYPD is essentially operating on a premise of guilty until proven innocent, and so they target people, they target communities, and then to figure out what they're targeting them for later," said Fahd Ahmed, legal director of Desis Rising Up and Moving.
"I was scared in the beginning," said Manny Yusuf, who said he was stopped and frisked. "But then, when I thought about it more, I got angry, because I obviously didn't understand, 'Why me?'"
Activists are calling on lawmakers to pass the Community Safety Act, which would ban racial profiling by the NYPD.
NYPD Memo On Reporting Stop-And-Frisks
POLICE DEPARTMENT CITY OF NEW YORK
MARCH 5, 2013
FROM: CHIEF OF PATROL
TO: COMMANDING OFFICER, ALL PATROL BOROUGHS
SUBJECT: REQUIRED ACTIVITY LOG ENTRIES REGARDING UF250’S
1. Effective immediately, to ensure that all documentations regarding UF250’s are standardized, all uniformed members will make the following required Activity Log entries whenever a “Stop, Question and Frisk Report” is prepared (see attached).
• Date/time of stop
• Location of stop
• Suspect’s Last name, First name
• Suspect’s pedigree
• Suspected crime or offence (felony or penal law misdemeanor)
• Explanation of suspicion (looking into windows, pulling on doorknob, etc)
• Whether or not the suspect was frisked
• Sprint/Job number
• Disposition of stop (96, 92C, 93Q, etc.)
2. In addition, the circumstances or factors of suspicion MUST BE ELABORATED on in the Additional Circumstances/Factors sections of the “Stop, Question and Frisk Reporter” and Activity Log (i.e. if the “Furtive Movements” caption is checked off, then a description of that movement MUST be specified).
3. Furthermore, a photocopy of Activity Log entries will be made and attached to the UF250 prior to submission to the Desk Officer/supervisor. This photocopy will be kept with the precinct copy of the Stop Question and Frisk Report.
4. Commanding Officers will ensure that members of their respective commands are apprised and comply accordingly.
5. For your INFORMATION and IMMEDIATE COMPLIANCE.
James P. Hall
CHIEF OF PATROL