Almost three years since Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk to be unconstitutional, a report released in February showed that many police officers were still clueless about reforms and continued to make illegal stops. Now the court-appointed monitor who wrote that report has an edict for the NYPD: stop harassing people who are outside their own homes.
Attorney and federal monitor Peter Zimroth has submitted new guidelines for police behavior in and nearby NYCHA buildings and the thousands of buildings enrolled in the Trespass Affidavit Program.
That program, known as TAP, allows police to patrol in and around buildings where landlords are concerned drugs are being sold, and has led to many dubious stops, searches, and arrests.
Zimroth states that the "mere presence in or near a building enrolled in the Trespass Affidavit Program does not provide a basis to approach and conduct an investigative encounter, nor does it establish reasonable suspicion for a stop."
In other words: the NYPD can't stop someone just because they are in or around a TAP building.
If Zimroth's recommendation is approved by Judge Analisa Torres, that practice will extend to TAP buildings in all five boroughs.
This would strengthen a 2013 ruling which ordered the NYPD to immediately cease making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx.
That case was Ligon vs. City of New York, one of three cases related to the main stop-and-frisk case, Floyd vs. City of New York. The third is Davis et al vs. City of New York.
"No one should be subjected to police harassment just because they live in and around one of these buildings," says Alexis Karteron, the NYCLU attorney who is lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Ligon case.
"It's definitely great to see the NYPD moving forward with these reforms and ensuring that their officers respect people's rights to move freely in and around these buildings," Karteron added. The Ligon case, filed in 2012, is still open, as the parties remain in settlement negotiations.
The federal monitor is also recommending a pilot program for increased supervisory review of stops in the Bronx that are made based on a suspicion of trespassing. On top of that, officers who make a trespass arrest in NYCHA buildings will have to fill out a new form documenting the stop and arrest in detail.
That latter recommendation stems from the Davis case, in which Judge Scheindlin pointed out that police training materials were instructing officers to approach and question NYCHA residents and visitors without reasonable suspicion, and to arrest anyone who failed to leave or establish his or her right to be present in that building.
"We have revised the recruit training curriculum," NYPD Assistant Chief Matthew Pontillo told reporters yesterday in a briefing on Zimroth's recommendations. "We're about to roll out a new in-service training curriculum; it'll be a one-day course that everybody will go through. The field training officer curriculum was updated, promotional training was updated. We have a new patrol guide procedure on stop and question. In another two weeks we will be publishing the new form that cops fill out when they do a stop...all these things kind of dovetail, they're all interrelated."
Since Scheindlin's original 2013 ruling on TAP stop-and-frisks, the number of trespassing arrests has declined steadily, said Robert Gangi, who is the director of the Police Reform Organizing Project. But Gangi said that "there's still a significant amount of [trespassing] arrests, almost 90% people of color. We still see a fairly steady stream of people being arrested for trespassing, and the numbers do show that there has been a reduction, but there's a stark racial bias associated with it."
That racial bias is prevalent in the NYPD's practice of broken windows policing, Gangi argued, pointing to a data analysis that PROP released this morning.
According to that report [PDF], in the first three months of 2016, 86.5% of misdemeanor arrests in the city involved people of color, and that's increased each year since 2014. PROP's analysis also found that misdemeanor arrests have increased by 2% so far this year, and that some arrest categories, such as farebeating and marijuana possession, involve over 91% people of color.
"It's almost as if we've found a better remedy for handling smallpox, but smallpox is hardly the problem anymore, it's now cancer," Gangi said. "The main problem now isn't stop-and-frisk, it's quota-driven broken windows policing, and these guidelines will have virtually no effect on that."