Yesterday we were invited to witness the NYPD's new stop-and-frisk training regimen, observing three live-action simulations of police stops at the NYPD's training facility in the Bronx. "They are reflective of actual jobs," Deputy Chief James Shea told reporters of the scenarios. Indeed the NYPD's facility sports a realistic-looking city block and officers acting convincingly as civilians. But how realistic do these simulations look next to stop-and-frisks in the field?
Two of the scenarios involved officers being notified of suspect descriptions, and the third was a domestic disturbance in a public housing building. None of the scenarios involved spotting "furtive movements," which was the #1 reason police stopped civilians in 2011.
In this first training scenario, descriptions for two males, one white, the other black, are given to the officers. Officers stop and frisk both. The white male is detained after the complainant positively IDs him. The black male, though matching the description, is not given a positive ID, and is free to go. The entire interaction lasts under three minutes. Bystanders are allowed to freely videotape the interaction, and one officer politely asks them to stand back a few feet.
In this video of an actual stop-and-frisk conducted in Harlem, two black males in a car are stopped for an unknown reason (we learn later it's for tinted windows). The man filming the encounter is told he is "interfering with a car stop" despite standing on the sidewalk at least 15 feet away, and the police continue to threaten him: "Step back. That's the last time I'm going to tell you." One of the men has trouble finding his driver's license, and the police search their car and find nothing. His license is later found, and the men are released without tickets or traffic violations. It's unclear how long the entire encounter lasts, but it's well over six minutes.
Yesterday Deputy Chief Shea told reporters, "One of the most important things [about conducting stop-and-frisks] is how you disengage from that person who was stopped and was not guilty of a crime." In this case, they make small talk about a Knicks game and LeBron James.
In this second training scenario, officers receive a complaint of an argument in a public housing building. A black male has apparently been arguing with his girlfriend, who refuses to ID him to officers when they arrive. Because he has no ID, police gently ask the man to leave, and he complies. The stop lasts around two minutes.
This actual stop outside Staten Island's Stapleton Projects appears to occur after police are radioed a description. Police frisk the black male in silence for several minutes, then release him once they find nothing. One officer tells him, "Thanks for your cooperation. Have a good one."
In this final scenario, officers receive a report that a man in a Yankees cap is selling narcotics on a corner. Officers approach and find a man who meets the description and begin to make friendly small-talk, before picking up a bag on the ground. Everyone on the block leaves as the police discover there is narcotics in the bag. It's classified as a "found narcotics" stop, and no one is detained.
In this real life stop-and-frisk, again in Harlem, two black men sitting on a park bench are questioned about drug activity and thoroughly frisked. One of the men becomes visibly upset as officers stick their fingers down his sleeves. The encounter lasts at least seven minutes, and after finding nothing, the officers take the their information and leave without issuing any citation.
"We wanna know what the hell they're looking for, what they want," one of the men who was frisked tells Joseph Hayden, an activist who dutifully records police interactions with Harlem's residents.
"Police work is not always pretty," the Executive Officer, Legal Bureau Kerry Sweet said yesterday. "We can raise our voice if we have to, put our hands on someone, raise our weapons and yell at someone to freeze." But Sweet assured reporters that the NYPD's method for determining stops was as precise as possible. "We cannot use race alone to make stops. The levels of the type of stops officers perform are very, very nuanced, and the decisions to make a stop are fact-driven and fact-specific."