By Charles F. Otey, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
How will police officers deal with the evolving, hot-button stop-and-frisk policies championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which are now being gradually implemented by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton?
Seeking some answers to this question, the Kings County American Inn of Court, led by President Justice Ellen Spodek, held a recent session devoted to the substantially altered stop-and-frisk measures.
One member suggested that some of the proposed changes — among them the presumption of racial bias when it’s alleged in a stop-and-frisk matter — could stir a lot of litigation.
New York City’s stop-and-frisk program was started by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and was — though fraught with potential racial profiling — a statistically valuable tool in crime reduction.
Four full months into his administration, Mayor Bill de Blasio has run into a number of problems, some of which have riled the honeymoon status he enjoyed prior to being sworn in to succeed Mayor Bloomberg.
Relations between the two men were never more than cordial. De Blasio remained silent at his inauguration as various speakers — chief among them singer Harry Belafonte — excoriated the outgoing mayor, who sat stone-faced, barely concealing his discomfort with the assaults on his character as well as the attacks on outgoing NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Most cops viewed Bratton’s earlier term as NYPD commissioner, under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with mixed emotions. There was a quiet consensus that while his “Broken Windows” methods were working well, Bratton might have been thinking about succeeding Mayor Giuliani and taking over Gracie Mansion — with or without Giuliani’s blessing.
Commissioner Bratton won nationwide applause for his policies and was featured on national magazine covers, including Time. Yet, he was then summarily fired by Mayor Giuliani. The new commissioner’s continuing criticism of Commissioner Kelly is unprecedented.
Kings Inn Members Debate Merits of Stop-and-Frisk
Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, the Kings Inn Panel, headed by Appellate Division Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, Justice Joanne Quinones, Larry Di-Giovanna and their team, still provided vital guidelines that evening. (Of course, it helped that Criminal Courts OCA Judicial Executive Hon. Barry Kamins was sitting in the audience.)
The federal standards for stop-and-frisk were first established in a Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio in 1968. The court held that probable cause was not required when making stops on the street, so long as the police officer had a “reasonable suspicion,” a belief, “based on experience, observation, and/or prior knowledge” that the suspect “is in the process of carrying out a crime.”
New York State has fashioned its own approach, which was developed in the landmark decision in People v. Debour. The Debour case set up four escalating “levels” of intrusion of stop-and-frisk, based largely on the perception of the inquiring officer.