At the height of the NYPD’s unconstitutional and discriminatory stop-and-frisk program, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were being stopped every year for a “furtive movement.” Thousands more were stopped for a “suspicious bulge,” or because they were in a “high crime area.” These were the most infamous checkboxes – and some of the most frequently used – on the Police Department’s UF 250, the form officers filled out documenting the stops and frisks they conducted. None of these explanations for the stops, by themselves, satisfy the legal requirement of reasonable suspicion for stopping someone, and most New Yorkers called them what they were: an excuse for harassing predominantly black and brown people.
As of today, “furtive movement,” “suspicious bulge,” and “high crime area” have taken their rightful place in the dustbin of history. This morning the court monitor overseeing the reform process of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices submitted a new version of the stop report to the federal court in Floyd v. City of New York, CCR’s stop-and-frisk lawsuit, for official approval. Gone from the new form are these odious checkboxes. Equally important, the new form requires officers to fill out a new narrative section, meaning that they actually have to explain in their own words the specific reasons why they stopped someone.
The new stop report is part of the reform process set in motion by the 2013 landmark court decision that found the stop-and-frisk program to be in violation of the Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendments. That process includes both an immediate set of reforms that the judge ordered (the revision of the stop form being one of them) and a joint remedial process that requires the input of communities impacted by stop-and-frisk in designing additional reforms.
CCR attorneys and NYPD officials have been meeting with the monitor regularly for the past sixteen months, hammering out various pieces of the immediate reforms – from training to discipline to the pilot body-worn camera program. Meanwhile, the joint remedial process has convened 40 focus groups, with different populations, including youth of color, LGBTQ youth, homeless people, and recently incarcerated people. Potential new reforms will be proposed from the information collected along with other input from upcoming community fora and meetings.
But the new stop report is only as good as the people using it. Training and supervision will be critical to ensuring that officers have the knowledge and incentives to use the form to document their stops properly, and more importantly, to conduct stops legally and in an unbiased way. The same is true for the body-worn cameras – to be an effective accountability tool, everything depends on how the pilot program is implemented.
Without a commitment to reform at all levels of NYPD leadership, the best policies and the best training in the world will do little to change the culture of the NYPD that underlies the unconstitutional practices. The monitor summed it up best in his most recent report to the court: “Ultimately, this a challenge of leadership, particularly at the levels that interact most directly with the officers engaged in enforcement—sergeants, lieutenants, captains, precinct and unit commanders.” To succeed, reform must be comprehensive: the NYPD has to overhaul the way it trains, supervises, evaluates, and holds its officers accountable to the communities they serve.
The demise of the “furtive movement,” “high crime area,” and the “suspicious bulge” is welcome news. The new stop report is an important milestone in the reform journey, but there is still a long road ahead of us.