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NYPD Stop-And-Frisk: NYC Councilmen Peter Vallone And Jumaane Williams Debate The Pros And Cons

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New Yorkers are divided on the issue of NYPD stop-and-frisks. An effective tool in curbing crime and keeping guns off the streets? Or an invasion of civil liberties that disproportionately targets minorities?

A new Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday shows 49 percent percent of New York voters disapproving of the practice, with 46 percent approving. Broken down by race, white voters approve 59 - 36 percent, while disapproval is 68 - 27 percent among black voters and 52 - 43 percent among Hispanic voters.

New York's finest stopped and interrogated people 684,330 times in 2011, according to The Wall Street Journal, a 14 percent increase over 2010. 92 percent of those stopped were males, and 87 percent of those stopped were black or Hispanic, a glaring disparity considering blacks and Hispanics make up only 59 percent of the city's population.

Despite numerous lawsuits against the NYPD regarding stop and frisks, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and City Councilman Peter Vallone have been steadfast in their defense of the program, maintaining that it keeps the city safe.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams however, has joined other local politicians in calling on the federal government to investigate the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisks. And in February, Williams launched a legislative effort aiming at more NYPD accountability, including a measure that would require cops to hand out business cards after an interrogation.

Below Councilman Williams argues against NYPD's current use of stop-and-frisks, while Councilman Vallone--who, it should be noted, is the Chair of the City Council's Public Safety Committee--defends it.

Join the debate below and see if Williams or Vallone can change your mind.

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Pre-debate poll:

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The NYPD practice of stop-and-frisk is, in its current incarnation, an effective, legal and necessary tool in curbing crime.

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Who makes the better argument?

Peter F. Vallone Jr. Council Member representing Astoria; Chair, New York City Council's Public Safety Committee

I've been asked to explain why the New York Police Department (NYPD) vigorously pursues a potentially dangerous and controversial "stop, question and frisk" policy in New York City -- the safest large city in America. The answer is simple -- because it works. It is the ONLY way to get the guns from the bad guys and off our streets BEFORE the next drive-by shooting occurs. This policy has saved 5,600 (mostly minority) lives in the last 10 years, and takes about 800 guns off the street every year.

There are elected officials and others who claim that this policy, and the entire NYPD, is racist, by misrepresenting simple facts. The NYPD is the most diverse (the last class of 1,500 was actually majority-minority) and best trained force in the world. Its detractors claim that because black men are stopped at about twice the rate that they exist in the census, that proves racism.

Statements like that are irresponsible at best, and dangerous at worst, as they place our officers at greater risk on the street. There are almost NO criminal justice experts who would state that the census should be the basis by which we judge stops. In fact if that were so, we would be asking our police department to fulfill quotas to make sure that all groups were stopped at exactly the same rate as they exist. Of course, women might get upset by this as they commit a very small percentage of violent crime, but under this rationale would make up approximately 52 percent of all stops!

A much more reasonable benchmark to compare stops against is looking at the make-up of violent crime suspects as pointed out by the civilian population. When properly analyzed, the figures show that black males are pointed out by civilian (mostly minority) victims of violent crime about 66 percent of the time, and yet are stopped by police only 53 percent of the time. As Commissioner Ray Kelly has said, "the police go where the guns are," and that means into our high-crime neighborhoods, to protect all law-abiding victims from crime.

And yes, we are well aware that about 12 percent of stops result in a summons or arrest. That is an entirely normal and expected result when stops are based on "reasonable suspicion" and not "probable cause." Also, many of these stops are based on descriptions. For example, if the police get a description of a short male in a grey hoodie who just committed a robbery, 20 or 30 people matching that description may be stopped within the next few minutes. All (except the one who committed the crime), will be let go with no further action taken.

Are there bad stops? Of course. There are bad cops, just as there are bad elected officials, bankers, etc. As a former prosecutor, I put them in jail. As a former defense attorney, I represented people falsely accused by police. On a force of over 34,000, even if 1 percent of cops are bad, that will undoubtedly result in bad stops. Overwhelmingly though, we see good police officers trying their best to implement a necessary but confusing and often dangerous policy. That is why we must stay ever-vigilant and perform constant oversight of stop, question and frisk.

The Public Safety Committee, which I chair, has held more hearings on this topic than any other topic besides Anti-Terror. I (and the late Phil Reed) wrote the law banning racial profiling in NYC, and it was at my urging that the NYPD instituted a policy of explaining the reason for every stop, which includes handing out a card with a legal explanation (New York City Police Department Patrol Guide Interim Order No. 21, "Revision to Patrol Guide 212-11, 'Stop and Frisk,' May 18, 2010"). In addition, I was the first to call for the police to not retain the info obtained from these stops for an unreasonable time. There will be more reforms to ensure that stops are done with civility and respect for civil rights as we move forward, and more hearings are planned.

As I stated, the best reason for this policy is simple -- it is far better to prevent shootings than prosecute them. We can wait until after 93-year-old Sadie Mitchell is killed by a stray bullet while watching TV in her apartment, or until brave 8-year-old Armondo Bigo is shot in the shoulder in a deli, or until after another Detective Figosky is shot in the face and murdered, to then try and track down the shooter. Or we can let the NYPD do the one thing that may prevent these tragedies.

Ironically, on the same day that Zurana Horton was killed heroically trying to shield her child from bullets, an anti-stop, question and frisk rally was being held in Harlem. As her 12 children now face life without a mother, I think it is clear that no stop could have resulted in a greater violation of civil rights than the loss of a life, or the life of a loved one, to needless gun violence.

Jumaane D. Williams New York City Council Member, representing the 45th Council District

Stop, question and frisk is an acceptable policing tool, as the Supreme Court held in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). That is not the question at hand, despite how many have attempted to frame the debate in that way. Indeed, the question is whether the NYPD's current usage of stop, question and frisk, which disparately targets communities of more color, the LGBT community, the homeless and other historically disenfranchised New Yorkers, is effective, legal and/or necessary. My view is that it meets none of these standards and therefore should face reform.

The current stop, question and frisk policy is not effective. Statistics released this month by the NYPD show that 684,330 stops were performed in 2011, which represents a 603% increase since 2002, the year that data collection began on this program. This makes for over 4.3 million times that a New Yorker has been stopped, questioned and frisked during the Bloomberg administration.

This could be considered reasonable if it were the result of a high level of criminal activity, but the numbers do not bear that out to be true. An astounding 88% of those stops were of completely innocent New Yorkers in 2011 and the same holds true over the entirety of the last decade; indeed, almost 3.8 million stops have resulted in no arrest or summons.

Again, one could say that this is excusable if it were stemming violence in communities like mine. Unfortunately, the facts fail to even show that. Weapons have only been found from a stop, question and frisk 1.03% of the time, and firearms only 0.15% of the time. Meanwhile, data reveals a lack of causative effect between the number of stop, question and frisks and the number of homicides. For instance, the 75th Precinct, believed to have the highest incidence of gun violence in the city, saw a 37% drop in stop, question and frisks from 2010 to 2011, yet homicides also fell 6%.

Trust me, no one is more committed to reducing violence in our communities than we are. Since becoming a Council Member, I have attended far too many funerals and consoled far too many mothers. This crisis drove the Council's push to establish the Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, and as co-chair, along with Council Member Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx, I am pursuing more efficient ways to get guns off our streets, such as gun buyback programs; the NYPD recovered 85 weapons from a single event I co-sponsored in November.

The current stop, question and frisk policy is not legal. According to Terry v. Ohio, an NYPD officer must have reasonable suspicion that a person has been, is or is about to be engaged in criminal activity to perform a stop, question and frisk. Reasonable suspicion is based on specific and articulable facts, rather than an indefinite hunch. Terry set this high standard because the Supreme Court recognized that stop, question and frisk is a "serious intrusion upon the sanctity of the person, which...is not to be undertaken lightly."

Indeed, since that ruling, courts in New York State have been careful in balancing the needs of effective law enforcement and the privacy rights of regular citizens. A number of cases have defined types of criteria which, when viewed on their own, fail the reasonable suspicion standard, including nervous reactions, location in a high-crime area, general descriptions of suspects (i.e. black male wearing a baseball cap) and visible bulges inside a person's pocket.

The point here is that NYPD officers should be weighing all information available, yet the evidence points to that not being the case. According to a report released by the Center for Constitutional Rights in connection to Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., a federal class action lawsuit challenging the NYPD's stop, question and frisk policy, nearly 150,000 stops over the last six years lack any legal justification, and all together 30% of all stops have been unconstitutional.

The NYPD's cavalier attitude towards the law has been most greatly felt in communities of more color, which are overwhelmingly the target of the stop, question and frisk policy. In 2011, about 87% of those stopped were black or Latino. Many will challenge that this is due to the realities of where crime occurs, but even in low crime areas and mixed or mostly white neighborhoods it is blacks and Latinos that are more likely to be stopped.

The current stop, question and frisk policy is not necessary. The most important tool in an NYPD officer's crime-fighting kit is a great relationship with the community. That is how trust is established and that is how we get safer streets for all. Unfortunately, when pressured by precinct quotas for producing UF-250, the focus shifts. Community members feel targeted and shamed while many NYPD officers, on and off the record, have reported they feel pressured and demoralized. All the while, crime ticks upward and everyone suffers. As a result, the policy not only fails to serve its purpose, it actually undermines the overarching goals of the NYPD, which has transformed stop, question and frisk from a useful tool into an utter tragedy.

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The NYPD practice of stop-and-frisk is, in its current incarnation, an effective, legal and necessary tool in curbing crime.

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Peter F. Vallone Jr.Jumaane D. WilliamsNeither argumenthas changed the most minds

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