Did Bill de Blasio Keep His Promise to Reform Stop-and-Frisk?

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to police commissioner Bill Bratton at a news conference in Brownsville in 2014. Eric Thayer/Reuters

A little over a year ago, a federal judge ruled the New York Police Department's use of Terry stops—commonly referred to as stop-and-frisk—was unconstitutional. The policy, Judge Shira Scheindlin found, violated the Fourth- and 14th-Amendment rights of those being stopped.

Bill de Blasio opposed stop-and-frisk from the beginning of his campaign in the city's 2013 mayoral election. He was swept into the mayor's office in January on a promise to reform the program.

Did de Blasio keep his promise? Yes and no, according to community leaders.

Stops peaked in 2011—with the NYPD conducting 685,724 stops that year—and began to decline dramatically in 2012, two years before de Blasio took office. In 2013, there were 191,851 stops, down 64 percent from 2012, and 72 percent from 2011, according to a new report by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The raw number of stops is only half the equation, however. Scheindlin found that the NYPD disproportionately targeted young black and Latino men for stops. That fact remains unchanged since de Blasio took office in 2014.

Thus far in 2014, 55.4 percent of those stopped were black, down only 0.4 percent from 2013 and up 0.6 percent from 2012, NYCLU found. And 30.2 percent of those stopped were Latino, compared to 29.4 percent in 2013 and 31.8 percent in 2012. Only 14.4 percent of those stopped so far in 2014 have been white, up from 11.1 percent in 2013 and 9.7 percent in 2012.

Neighborhoods with large minority populations—Brownsville, East New York, Jackson Heights and St. George, to name a few—still experienced vastly more stops than mostly white neighborhoods in 2014. "Since the ruling, I have seen some improvement but not enough," said Carolyn Walker-Diallo, CEO of the George Walker Jr. Community Coalition, a community organization for East New York and Cypress Hills. "I'm not sure if the whole entire police department has been retrained but definitely the commissioner needs to work with the mayor within these next three years coming up. They really need to do a whole lot more retraining," she said. Police conducted 6,928 stops in East New York in 2013, the second most of any precinct in the city.

"I haven't personally seen any change in the officers within the community I live in," said Salema Davis, an executive at the George Walker Jr. Community Coalition. "I really think they need to retrain them on community sensitivity," she said. "As far as stop-question-and-frisk in East New York, it's basically the same." In East New York, young people especially are still subject to frequent Terry stops, which creates tension between the NYPD and community members, Davis told Newsweek.

However, some community leaders in other parts of the city say they have noticed a change in NYPD behavior. Daniel Dromm, the city councilman for District 25, which covers Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, told Newsweek his constituents were "very, very pleased" about the state of the stop-and-frisk program. "There does remain some concern," he said, "especially with the transgender community." Jackson Heights, Dromm said, is home to a large number of transgender people, who were targeted for stops at a rate more than double that of other residents of the neighborhood, DNAinfo reported in 2012.

Others say the mayor's policy of reducing the number of stops has made New York less safe. "People are scared," Alberto Ramos, a community activist from Cypress Hills, told Newsweek. "Now, they know that people could carry a weapon," he said. "A lot of my community members used to like when they saw police frisking people."

One solution to the NYPD's racial profiling problem might be requiring officers to wear body cameras that would record their interactions with the public. Scheindlin mandated such a program in her ruling, but the city and the NYPD under Bloomberg fought to keep from having to implement it. In January, de Blasio agreed to withdraw the city's appeal of Scheindlin's decision, and in August the city followed through on de Blasio's promise. Five separate police unions continue to resist, however, arguing they have not seen enough proof that body cameras serve to improve relations between police and communities.

Public Advocate Letitia James has been a strong supporter of body cameras. "We've got a tool at our disposal, which is used in other jurisdictions, that in fact can improve police-community relations," she said Thursday.

Over the weekend, demonstrators marched in Staten Island to honor Eric Garner—whose recent death at the hands of the NYPD was ruled a homicide—and to protest aggressive tactics employed by the NYPD. Garner was killed by an officer from the NYPD's 120th Precinct. The 120th precinct has seen 1,375 stops through the first two quarters of in 2014, more than anywhere else, according to NYCLU data.

Elsewhere in the city, de Blasio spoke of changes to the stop-and-frisk program since the Bloomberg years.

But true change remains elusive. The change de Blasio talked about—the only change to the program so far—was the reduction in the sheer number of stops, not a change in the disproportionate targeting of blacks and Latinos. "What my constituents have expressed to me, what they’d really like to see, is a change in the culture of the police department," Dromm said. "And this is something that has been spoken about ad nauseam, but it remains the fact that oftentimes police officers do not respect the communities that they police. And the community they police becomes suspect," he said. "And trying to change that culture is very difficult."

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