The Chief
March 22, 2002

Kelly Issues Orders On Racial Profiling

Sees No Policy Failure

By William Van Auken

An order issued by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly last week clarifying the department's attitude toward racial profiling drew immediate fire from oth the leader of the largest police union and the head of a fraternal group representing African-American police officers.

The operational order, entitled "Department Policy Regarding Racial profiling," states that the NYPD prohibits "the use of race, color, ethnicity or national origin as the determinate factor for initiating police action."

Must Justify Stops

It asserts that cops must be able to spell out grounds for reasonable suspicion leading to a stop and frisk or other enforcement action, and cannot initiate such steps based on racial factors.

The order, which is to be read at roll call in commands throughout the NYPD, added, however, that race and ethnicity can be considered in the pursuit of a specific suspect "in the same way the member would use pedigree information, e.g., height, weight, age, etc."

Mr. Kelly stressed that these policies had been in place all along, and that he did not perceive a serious problem with racial profiling in the NYPD.

Less than two years ago, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights produced a report finding a practice of racial profiling in the NYPD. The State Attorney General issued an earlier finding that black and Hispanic males were the subjects of stop and frisks at a disproportionately higher rate than whites. The department strongly disputed both reports.

"We haven't had a written policy on racial profiling, and I think it's important to put it our both for internal and external constituences," the Police Commissioner said at a March 13 press briefing.

Mr. Kelly added that precinct commanders and other commanding officers would be responsible for overseeing compliance with the order and particularly ensuring that stop-and-frisk forms are properly filled out by patrol cops and signed by their supervisors. In addition, the performance in this area will be reviewed at Compstat sessions that deal primarily with crime statistics.

The Police Commisioner said that his decision to issue the order stemmed in part from a similar initiative he had taken while serving as the U.S. Customs Commissioner, when that agency came under fire for alleged racial profiling in the questioning and searching of black American travelers.

Different Criterion

He drew a distinction between the two agencies, noting that Customs Agents "don't need reasonable suspicion" when stopping people crossing an international border, but must use some "objective criteria" in terms of appearance or behavior.

Mr. Kelly rejected suggestions that the policy was aimed at placating concerns in minority communities following the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision overturning the convictions of three former city cops implicated in the stationhouse assault on Abner Louima.

He acknowledged that "there is at least a perception among some people that racial profiling goes on," but added, "I don't think you should draw an inference that there is some sort of failure of procedure or practice."

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch criticized the order as unnecessary, while expressing concern that it tarnished the reputation of police officers whose image benefited greatly from the department's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

'No Complaints at WTC'

"I didn't hear any complaints that police officers at the World Trade Center were asking people about their race or ethnicity before risking their lives to rescue them," said Mr. Lynch.

Describing the Commissioner's order as "not worth the paper it's printed on," the PBA leader said, "I don't feel there is a need to address something that police officers are not doing."

The leader of the African-American fraternal group, however, said that racial profiling is pervasive in policing, and that the Police Commissioner's statements to the contrary reflected the dearth of blacks in the top echelons of the NYPD advising him.

"How do you say you're putting in place a program when you say the problem the program is supposed to address doesn't exist?" asked Lieut. Eric Adams, leader of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement. "It's like Alcoholics Anonymous: the first step is to acknowledge that you have a problem."

Lieutenant Adams described the order as a "feel-good" measure that lacked teeth. "The fact that he says it doesn't exist serves to invalidate the experiences of countless Latinos and blacks in this city," he said. "And that's all the troops heard, that based on his 30 years' experience he doesn't believe any problem exists."