NYPD on Trail: Week Six

After six weeks of testimony — sometimes dramatic, sometimes data-driven, but consistently disturbing in its findings — the plaintiffs in the historic Floyd v. City of New York trial finished presenting the liability portion of their case. CCR and its co-counsel (from Covington & Burling LLP and Beldock, Levine & Hoffman LLP) will present additional witnesses during the remedies phase, but for now, it is the city’s turn to try and counter the massive evidence presented of the NYPD’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policy.

Testimony last week was mostly from NYPD officials in positions responsible for oversight of officer conduct. The theme that emerged over and over was one of a department apparently unwilling or uninterested in ascertaining whether stops are lawfully conducted. On Wednesday, Lou Reiter, our police practices expert, commented on the lack of supervision of stops throughout the NYPD, saying “it’s like everybody sticks their head in the sand.”

Julie Schwartz, the Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD’s Department Advocates Office, which recommends what disciplinary action to take against officers involved in substantiated complaints, testified that the department recommends “instruction,” the lowest level of discipline, a majority of the time, and that there was a marked increase in the rate at which this discipline was recommended in the last three years. Mary Cronin, head of the NYPD’s Quality Assurance Division, which audits officers’ documentation of stop-and-frisk incidents, testified that almost all precincts got a “fail” score for inadequate documentation. The court also learned that, whereas QAD interviews individuals in the course of crime complaint audits, it relies on paperwork alone for its stop-and-frisk audits. Reiter, meanwhile, testified that in reviewing the evidence in the case he found “systemic failures” in supervision, which can create a situation where the operational policy is quite different than official written policies and procedures.

The city’s first witness was Chief James Shea, who was until recently the head of the Police Academy. He testified about the department’s training of officers regarding what constitutes reasonable suspicion for a stop. But some of what was presented during his testimony — such as the video “On Recognizing Characteristics of Armed Suspects” that listed carrying a tilted shopping bag, carrying an elongated package, and having one’s hands in one’s pockets as signs to watch out for — didn’t exactly reassure observers in the court. (He did, however, indicate that a single factor could not be taken as reasonable suspicion and that officers needed to assess a situation overall.)

Though already six weeks long, the trial continues to be of tremendous interest to the many affected communities, the general public and the media. CCR continues to publish a daily account of each day’s proceedings.

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