“Protect and Respect” by Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer September 24, 2011 Good afternoon.
Thank you, Charles, for that very kind introduction. And thank you, Mayor Booker, for sharing your insights with us today. I am honored to be on this stage with so many people of conscience and commitment. We’re here to talk about issues affecting the incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated and their families – about ways to “think outside the cell.” Today I would like to discuss the NYPD’s escalating use of street stops, or stop and frisks, as a crime prevention tool – a policy that impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers of color every year. The police department argues that these frisks are critical for keeping guns off our streets. I know we all agree that ridding our city of illegal handguns must be one of our highest priorities. But let’s be honest – last year, in 99.8 percent of all police stops, no guns were recovered. The unintended consequence of this policy is that we remain separate and unequal on the streets of New York more than 45 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in this very pulpit and talked about “the fierce urgency of now.” We only have to look at the numbers. The NYPD made six hundred thousand street stops last year and is on track to exceed seven hundred thousand this year. And yet only seven percent of those stops ended in arrests. Put another way, in 93 out of 100 cases, police could not find any basis for arrest, which raises serious questions about the program’s effectiveness in preventing crime. There is, however, no question that it has succeeded in subjecting innocent New Yorkers to frequent and unnecessary harassment. Eighty-five percent of those stopped were black or Latino, who were nine times more likely to be stopped than whites.
The truth is, if you are an 18 or 19 year-old black or Latino male in certain neighborhoods in New York City, the chances you have been stopped by police are over 80 percent – and probably not just once. It has become a sad rite of passage for too many of our young people, and a fact of life for men of color in our city. Right now, as we speak, black and Latino parents and white parents are having completely different conversations with their children about the police. Parents who look like me teach their children early that if they are lost or in trouble, they should find a police officer. For too many black and Latino parents throughout the city, the conversation about police is a whole other story. It’s about explaining to their children how they may be presumed guilty, even if they’ve done nothing wrong, about how to keep a bad situation from getting worse. We cannot wait a minute longer to have an honest examination of stop and frisk and the collateral damage it inflicts on our city every day. How it has created a wall of distrust between people of color and the police that makes it harder, not easier, to solve crimes. How it drains the NYPD and our courts of millions of dollars every year that would be better spent on effective crime-prevention programs. And how it condemns too many of our young people to minor records that become major problems when it comes to obtaining a job, securing public housing, getting a Pell grant to continue their education, or even serving in our armed forces. I am here today to say we must change this policy. We can be tougher on crime by being smarter on crime. No one wants to go back to the days of 2,200 murders a year – I know I don’t. I grew up in Washington Heights in the 1970s, when crime touched every life, every corner of the city. The NYPD, most recently under the leadership of Commissioner Ray Kelly, deserves enormous credit for keeping New York the safest big city in America. Major crimes have dropped 80 percent over the last 20 years, and that is thanks to the dedicated men and women of the NYPD who put their lives on the line every day.
But this great achievement does not mean we can turn a blind eye to issues of basic fairness. Treating a whole generation of young people like criminals for the simple act of walking down the street is a moral and constitutional outrage that should concern us all. If you see something, say something – that’s what they tell us to do. And we do need people to step up when a crime is committed. But how can you ask a teenager to help the same police officer who just stopped him for no reason and perhaps will again? The NYPD has argued that the expansion of stop and frisk has helped to drive down crime. But the city’s dramatic drop in crime began a decade before street stops were ramped up under the current administration. What has been on the increase – almost entirely because of stop and frisk – are arrests for low-level marijuana charges. In the last year, those arrests accounted for one of out of every seven arrests in New York, burdening taxpayers with $75 million in police and court costs every year. We have to ask ourselves: at a time when murder, rape and robbery are inching back up, shouldn’t our officers be responding to 911 calls, walking the streets and investigating violent crimes? Some will say: “If it is not broken, don’t fix it. Let the system stand.” I say the system is broken for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are subjected to questionable searches every year. We must have a system that protects and respects everyone; a system that provides safety, while preserving the dignity of the individual and fostering cooperation with the law. Let me offer one different approach that right now is being employed in some 70 cities and towns across the nation, including Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. They have all adopted the “call-in” strategy first pioneered in 1996 by John Jay College Professor David Kennedy with “Operation Ceasefire” in Boston. Here’s what it often looks like: There’s a drug market operating on a corner, or a gang-related shooting that is likely to escalate. 3
You start by “calling in” gang members and confronting them with a powerful array of forces. It is tough. The police, the D.A.’s office and the Probation Department are all in the room. There is also a stack of warrants that has been prepared ahead of time on each gang member. They are given an ultimatum: if any one individual steps out of line and commits a crime, the entire group will face arrest. And it is smart. You also bring in clergy, a mother who has lost a son to gunfire, a formerly incarcerated gang member, and community groups who offer alternatives to the streets. And the best part – it actually works. In Chicago, the “call-in” approach drove down homicide rates by 37 percent between 1999 and 2006 in targeted neighborhoods. In Boston, Operation Ceasefire was associated with a 63 percent drop in youth homicide in two years. The NYPD has a proud history of innovating and producing results, and yet it has never employed this strategy despite its proven success elsewhere. The strategy’s larger goal is to instill a sense of legitimacy in law enforcement, or what leading experts call procedural justice. If people think they are getting a fair shake and being treated with respect, they are much more likely to respect authority. And when people respect authority, all of us are safer. The time for talk is over. Today, I am proposing five steps to turn words into action. First, we train our officers to make stops more constitutional and less confrontational. We should start by re-drafting the NYPD training manual in time for the next class of recruits, and we should identify clear behavioral triggers for when a stop is constitutionally justified.
Second, we launch a pilot version of operation ceasefire in each of our boroughs within six months. After a Labor Day weekend that saw a staggering 58 shootings over three days, we cannot afford to close our minds to any innovative strategy that just might work. Third, we should hold commanders accountable for ensuring that stops in their precincts are executed properly – and we should make that a performance measure tracked by Compstat. Fourth, we must call on Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly to create a blue ribbon panel to explore the best ways to do this. This panel should draw from the ranks of the city’s district attorneys, its judges and police officials, but also its clergy, legal services and others who have seen the collateral damage caused by stop and frisk in our communities. At the end of the day, we need to recognize that stopping 600,000 New Yorkers every year – the vast majority for little or no reason – is ineffective and unworthy of our city. And finally, we must pass bipartisan legislation introduced by State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries that would ticket those in possession of small amounts of marijuana, rather than arresting them and running them through the system. I am pleased that Commissioner Kelly signaled this week his willingness to reverse the department’s longstanding policy on marijuana arrests. But let’s change this once and for all. We should pass that Jeffries bill this session and permanently save taxpayers $75 million in police and court costs. The savings could be used as a down payment to hire more police officers. This is about being tough on crime and smart on crime. This is about having law and order. Dr. King spoke of quiet reflection in the face of adversity. We, too, must reflect, but then we must act. And the fact is, we have already begun. It’s no coincidence that, on the eve of this conference, the NYPD quietly announced such a major shift in policy. That alone shows the power of our coalition, the power of our ideas. Don’t let it be said that the mountain can’t be moved. We’ve taken important steps – now let’s keep going and get the job done. Thank you.