American Bar Association March 1, 2014   


Has ‘stop and frisk’ been stopped?

By Stephanie Francis Ward

Extract of Pat Lynch's remarks from the full article.

Photo by Arnold Adler.
The NYC Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's Pat Lynch.

Few if any courts have dismissed a criminal case based on a defendant stopped because of his or her race, according to Harris. He mentions Whren v. U.S., a 1996 Supreme Court case that involved a drug conviction stemming from a traffic stop. The court found that any traffic violation by a driver provides probable cause for a stop.

Pat Lynch, a police officer and president of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, says it’s not hard to follow the law set forth in Terry v. Ohio. “You have to be able to articulate what the suspect is doing that is suspicious,” says Lynch, who spoke with the ABA Journal last fall. “For instance, when you have a person who is carrying a weapon, they tend to be heavy on one side. They’re nervous and repeatedly tap the area.”

The bigger problem, according to Lynch, is the goal that management sets for officers regarding stops and summonses. “If you don’t meet that goal, you get punished,” Lynch says. “I see police officers getting into trouble because they are trying to stay out of trouble.”

According to Lynch, punishments include assignment to a different shift, denial of opportunities to work overtime and unsatisfactory performance evaluations, which prevent promotions and transfers.

“Performance goals,” the Floyd order states, made it clear that supervisors evaluate officers based on activity numbers, with a focus on summonses, stops and arrests.

Evidence presented during trial included recordings officers made during police roll calls, where they are directed to get more stops and summonses.

One lieutenant supervising officers in Brooklyn’s predominantly black Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood reminded them that they were “not working in Midtown Manhattan, where people are walking around smiling and happy. You’re working in Bed-Stuy, where everyone’s probably got a warrant.”

A Halloween 2008 Bedford-Stuyvesant roll call was also recorded and presented as evidence: “Tonight is zero tolerance. It’s New Year’s Eve all over again. Everybody goes. I don’t care. … They’re throwing dice? They all go, promote gambling. I don’t care. Let the DA discuss what they’re going to do tomorrow,” a deputy inspector said. “They got [bandanas] on and they’re running like nuts down the block, chasing people? Grab them. Fuck it. You’re preventing a robbery. … You know that and I know that.”

The order found such behavior from management a problem, but it also noted that police department performance goals tied to stops may be “appropriate, once an effective system for ensuring constitutionality is in place.”

That finding disappoints Lynch. “There’s no time for community policing because you’re constantly chasing numbers,” he says. “We want to stop criminals; we don’t want to stop working folks. We’ve never wanted to do that, but that’s what the quotas do.”