The Bronx District Attorney’s office became the first in the city to openly question the validity of some stop-and-frisk arrests, by requiring police officers to verify each one in person before charges are rendered.
In the past, arresting police officers had to fill out a sworn statement and routine paperwork. Now, officers will now also have to prove under questioning that the suspect was not a resident or an invited guest in the housing project. The policy has been in place in the Bronx since July, as first reported by the New York Times.
“It’s a great step and it shows that the community pressure can no longer be ignored,” said Jose La Salle, a community organizer with Stop Stop & Frisk, a police reform advocacy group. “People don’t really know yet, but it’s up to the community to let the community know.”
The policy’s objective is to “seek the truth” and give prosecutors a better understanding of the cases before they lay charges, said Steven Reed, spokesperson for the Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson.
“When we don’t have the ability to question the officer as to the specifics, we don’t always get the complete picture of what occurred,” he wrote in an email to the BronxInk.org.
Reed also said his office discussed the policy with other district attorneys and with police before it was implemented. He declined to comment further due to ongoing litigation.
Legal and community advocates in the Bronx responded with guarded relief. “The Bronx District Attorney’s Office found what we have seen on the ground for years–a pattern of unlawful arrests resulting from the NYPD’s policies that target young men of color,” said Robin Steinberg, executive director of The Bronx Defenders, a non-profit legal aid organization.
Police data shows that young black men represent 26 percent of NYPD stops, but only 2 percent of the city’s population. Latino men make up 16 percent of the stops, but only 3 percent of the city’s population.
“It’s about time that a prosecutor finally had the courage to stand up to the NYPD,” Steinberg said.
Numbers from August show misdemeanor trespassing cases in the Bronx have dropped by almost 25 percent, which suggests the new policy may be having a dramatic effect. Total trespass arrests have also declined in the Bronx since this time last year, dropping by more than 38 percent.
In other boroughs like Manhattan and Brooklyn, the number of cases declined by only 5 percent since last August. In Queens, trespass arrests actually saw an increase over the same time frame.
District attorneys in the other four boroughs have not commented on Johnson’s policy change.
Community activists hope the other boroughs will follow suit. Bronx prosecutors “are starting to see that they can’t stand behind the NYPD,” said Andrea Ritchie, a civil rights attorney with Streetwise & Safe. “They don’t want to waste their time prosecuting people for no reason.”
The move is a step in the right direction, said Tomasina Sams Riddick, co-founder of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance, a nonprofit civil rights group that advocates fair law enforcement practices for people of color. She said the move highlights the current need to execute stop-and-frisk “appropriately” and puts more responsibility on police to arrest with a reason.
FURTHER READING: Sounding Off Stop and Frisk: Bronx Ink reporters fanned out over 12 neighborhoods last week to capture the stories and thoughts from Bronx residents about law enforcement tactics.