Yonkers NAACP Panel Discussion of 4th Amendment Guarantee of Freedom from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures and “Stop& Frisk” By EVAN INLAW, Esq.
The meeting of March 20, 2013, at the Nepperhan Community Center was called to order on time at 7pm, and the NAACP conducted its meeting as they do on any other occasion. The audience started out with light attendance of 10-15 people; but before the night was over, there were more than 30 people in the room.
At 7:30 the special program relating to Stop and Frisk law here in NY began.
The law relating to police “stop and frisks” has become the issue of the day due to three class action lawsuits pending in NYC.
There are three class action suits going on in NYC:
Floyd v. the City of NY
Ligon v. the City of NY
Davis v. the City of NY
The Davis case seeks damages for police conduct, excessively stopping and frisking people (with no reasonable basis) going in and coming out of housing projects.
The Ligon case seeks damages for illegal police conduct in excessively stopping and frisking people coming in and out of certain buildings. In NYC (and in Yonkers) a building owner can register his/her building with the local police department which will cause the police to give special attention to criminal activity that might be going on in the building. In NYC they call this registration process the “Trespass Affidavit Program” and “Operation Clean Halls”. In January of 2013, the Federal Court ordered a temporary halt to NYC’s Trespass Affidavit Program.
In the Floyd case, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for an alleged systemic, citywide illegal conduct by the police – who are reportedly stopping and frisking people based upon race. The trial on this case began March 19, 2013, and is expected to last 6 weeks.
Brief Summary of the Law in New York
The presentation started off with Attorney Lawrence R. Sykes (NAACP member and moderator for the evening), giving a brief overview of the law.
The 4th Amendment of the US constitution, as interpreted by the US Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio and codified in New York’s Criminal Procedure Law section 140 say that the police can stop any individual they suspect is committing a crime, has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime; but the police officer has to be able to state a reason for their suspicion, and the reason can’t be illegal (like I stopped you based on race, or a hunch or simply because you’re in a high crime area). The officer also has a right to conduct a “pat down” search by touching the outside of your clothing if the officer reasonably suspects you might be carrying a weapon.
Legal vs. Illegal Stop and Frisk (examples)
So, if you’re walking down the street in a high crime area; that by itself is not enough reason for an officer to stop you for questioning.
But, if the officer receives a radio call describing a criminal suspect, and you fit the description, that is a valid reason for the officer to stop you for questioning.
Guest Speakers Made Presentations
Daniel E. Berger of the N.Y. Civil Liberties Union (Westchester Branch, White Plains, NY) spoke first. He talked mostly about statistics. How, there are only a low number of minorities at the rank of sergeant in the YPD, and how there is only one Hispanic individual at the rank of officer but no black lieutenants or captains. He highlighted the fact that Yonkers still has racial inequities which need to be addressed.
Evan Inlaw, Esq. local criminal defense attorney spoke mostly about the three class action lawsuits pending in the Federal Courts of New York City and explained how those cases could potentially affect how the police conduct stop and frisks here in Yonkers. He also talked about the present state of the law as is relates to stop and frisks – offering practical advice for how people should interact with Yonkers Police during street encounters.
John George, Executive Assistant District Attorney in Westchester County also made a presentation. He spoke about what New York State law specifically says about stop and frisks (CPL 140) which essentially mirrors Federal Law on the subject. He also spoke about the Westchester County District Attorney’s “Public Integrity Bureau” which seeks to bring criminal actions against police officers who commit crimes against the public. He mentioned that one police officer was successfully prosecuted just last year for criminal activity. He urged the audience to work with prosecutors to help build a case against officers who break the law; and, to be patient with the process.
Detective Captain Robert Itzla spoke about his role as the head of the detective’s division of the YPD. He discussed training police officers receive, and he also explained how officers can be and often are punished administratively – indicating that officers who act improperly can be denied advancement/promotion, and sent for retraining. He also mentioned that YPD are required to fill out a “field interview card” for each stop and frisk; and further offered that in 2012 average 45% of individuals stopped by the YPD were Black, 33% were Hispanic but only 16% were Caucasian.
The last presenter was Captain Richard Doyle, head of internal affairs for YPD. He emphasized that YPD heavily recruits minority candidates; and, that in the past cycle of new recruits, they tripled the number of minority applicants. He also stressed that the internal affairs department conducts thorough investigations into every complaint; and, that those investigations usually last 5-6 months. Most complaints result in a finding that they can’t prove the complaint either way: whether it did happen or didn’t. Then there are a small number which are unfounded, and a small number which result in a finding against the officer complained of. Captain Doyle stressed that his department is open for complaints Monday – Friday, 9am to 5pm on Radford Street.
There were fiery speeches given by people in attendance, complaining of excessive force by YPD, and indicating that YPD often engages in illegal stop and frisks. One lady in attendance described how her nephew came to Yonkers only 2 months ago, but has already been stopped by the police 5 times. One man indicated how his son was arrested and beaten by the police for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Another lady in attendance described how Westchester County detention officers automatically assume that any prisoner who comes to the jail injured must have been arrested in Yonkers. Questions were asked about how long internal affairs investigations last; whether or not there is a liaison between the police and the general public; and several people in attendance expressed a need for a citizen’s review board.
All in all, it was an informative process – and a positive interaction between the community and law enforcement.
Personally, this writer feels that Yonkers should be proactive and make changes in the City’s stop and frisk policy; the cases in the Federal Courts in NYC suggest that “the handwriting is on the wall”; and Yonkers now has the opportunity to avoid the litigation battles presently being fought in NYC. It’s just a matter of time before Yonkers will fall prey to the exact same fate.
A citizen’s review board concerning police practices is a good start. Implementing a specific citywide prohibition against illegal stop and frisks by the Yonkers Police is also a good idea. Also, the city should consider conducting sting operations to weed out officers suspected of using excessive force against citizens of Yonkers.
Finally, it would be nice to see a change/improvement on the statistics relating to the racial demographics of persons stopped by the police here in the city of gracious living. 78% black & Hispanic compared to only 16% white is just about an open invitation for the same litigation that’s going on in NYC to happen right here in Yonkers.
Evan Inlaw, Esq. is a local criminal defense attorney residing in Yonkers, NY.