Archive for April 10th, 2012

News Digest 04/10/12

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

NYPD sued for stop-and-frisk in private residential buildings

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 9:41 am by

The New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk procedures are often associated with racially based harassment on the streets of New York City. A federal lawsuit against the NYPD’s “Clean Halls” program, however, reveals that officers’ invasive tactics have extended from the streets and into homes. Plaintiffs in the suit maintain that officers regularly stop and search residents of private apartment buildings without justification, targeting buildings predominantly populated by blacks and Latinos.

Operation Clean Halls was begun in 1991 to address growing crime throughout the city by making it easier for law enforcement to enter apartment buildings in crime-ridden areas. Landlords entering into this agreement grant officers access inside of their buildings to arrest anyone engaged in criminal activity, but the NYPD has given itself the broader permission to stop and search everyone.

As the lawsuit suggests, NYPD officers are not using this authority within the bounds of the Constitution. Police can demand identification of anyone in these buildings whom they deem suspicious. Failure to produce documents or convince police that one is rightfully occupying that space may result in a search and arrest.

In 2011, a record-setting 700,000 people were stopped and questioned as part of the program, but just 7.5 percent of the stops warranted an arrest. Blacks and Latinos make up 87 percent of those stopped and 94 percent of arrests under this program. Such disparities mirror numbers of the street-level stop-and-frisk program.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, in response to the lawsuit, claims that the Clean Halls program offers these tenants a level of safety equal to that of buildings with a paid doorman. While the commissioner views this controversial program as a “service,” residents have a different view.

Some tenants report fear of harassment each and every time they leave their apartment. Others note they no longer have visitors because friends and family members do not wish to subject themselves to such intrusions. Fawn Gracy, a resident of a Clean Halls building in the Bronx, has seen her sons victimized by this program on many occasions:

I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched police throw my son and his friends up against the wall and I have to run downstairs and just keep running and running, stopping them from harassing these kids who are just sitting in their own courtyard where they live at.

According to Juan Cartagena of the Latino Justice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, landlords’ rights cannot supersede the rights of residents. Cartagena explains,

We’re not pitting landlords’ rights versus tenants’ rights, we’re pitting tenants’ rights versus NYPD. Because even if the landlord were to tell the police department, ‘Please help me stop crime in my building,’ that doesn’t give police carte blanche to stop every person who walks in the building, out of the building. No individualized suspicion

While it is clearly wrong to single out and harass individuals on the basis of race, these policies will negatively impact the effectiveness of law enforcement in the long run. For many young men of color, this Clean Halls program will be their first experience with law enforcement. To stop, question, and harass individuals for merely sitting outside of their own homes is no way to build a relationship with members of these communities. One young plaintiff in the case recounts his experiences with the police:

To know that there’s cops around, you’re supposed to feel safe. But now when you’re walking to your house, and you’re not looking back behind your back to see if somebody is going to rob or steal from you, you’re looking for a cop. How you live like that?

Operation Clean Halls is not the first program to target racial minorities and violate civil rights. Rather, this program fits into a longstanding pattern of flagrant abuses by the NYPD. In a recent Truthout article, Shahid Buttar of BORDC astutely inquires, “The real question, which no one is poised to answer, is: what other skeletons lurk in the NYPD’s closet?”