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NYPD Officer Called Stop-and-Frisk ‘All-Star’ Explains His Motives

The federal court in Manhattan yesterday heard from a NYPD officer considered a stop-and-frisk “all-star,”  while Mayor Michael Bloomberg caused a stir by claiming the controversial policy caused a decline in the city crime rate.

“That’s the results of this,” Bloomberg told reporters, talking about the link between the crime rate decrease and stop-and-frisk. “If you think you’re going to get stopped, you don’t carry a gun … The crime goes down, the number of stop-and-frisks … goes down.”

But critics of the mayor say his causality is wrong.  The number of stop-and-frisks dropped by more than 50 percent in the first three months of this year — from 203,500 stops last year to 99,788 stops this year.  However, the city crime rate still fell, including a 30 percent drop in murders, so stop-and-frisk can’t be credited, critics charge.

“The low crime numbers bolster the Bloomberg administration’s already solid crime-fighting credentials, but the concurrent reduction in stop-and-frisk (under pressure) weakens one element of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s argument against critics of the policy,” noted Capital New York’s Azi Paybarah. “Bloomberg had warned that curtailing stop-and-frisk would mean ‘guns would be everywhere in our city.’”

In two days of testimony in the trial challenging stop-and-frisk practices that has been ongoing for two months, Judge Shira Scheindlin heard from police officer Kha Dang, who was characterized by the plaintiffs’ lawyers as an NYPD “all-star” because he racked up a total of 127 stops over a three-month period in summer 2009.  Dang patrolled the area around Fort Greene Park. As an eight-year veteran working out of the 88th precinct, he is among the NYPD‘s top four stoppers.

But during those 127 stops, Dang made just six arrests; he wrote one summons, he found contraband once and he never recovered any weapons. Of the stops, 115 were of African-Americans, the rest were other people of color. He never stopped a white person.

Dang said he was working in a high-crime area, plagued by gangs and violence, and his actions were informed by quality intelligence reports and a familiarity with the individuals in their neighborhood.

“We pool a lot of resources,” Dang told the court Tuesday. “These are not nice people, so we definitely keep our tabs on them.”

Dang explained how a series of violent muggings near Fort Greene Park were linked to a group of young people, so he would stop young people in the area surrounding the park, particularly those who spent their summer nights out after 1 a.m.

At other times, he said, he would rely on repeated observation of individuals to justify his stops.

“We have a general idea of their behavior,” Dang told the court Thursday, explaining that he would monitor the same individuals going about their lives on a daily basis. If he noticed “weird behavior,” he might make a stop. Asked what he would describe as “weird behavior,” Dang said, “Furtive movement would be one of them.”

“Furtive movement” is the phrase officers most frequently check off on departmental stop forms, in addition to “high crime area.” But critics say it is a dangerously vague term.

In the third quarter of 2009, Dang checked off “furtive movement” as a justification for  stops on 45 occasions, “high crime area,” 105 times, and “time of day, day of week, season” to justify 98 stops.

Dang gave examples of  furtive movement: “Hanging out in front of a building, sitting on benches or something like that … Standing near benches or trash cans,” and “movements to certain areas of the body, usually the waistband or pants pocket.”

“Has anyone asked you why you only stopped people of color?” Bruce Corey, an attorney for the plaintiffs, asked Dang.

Dang said no.

Corey asked Dang if his supervisors had raised concerns when he didn’t recover any weapons during the period in question.

Again, he said no.

“I think the city thought he was their all-star,” Corey said outside court Thursday.

“Nobody seemed to care that he made 127 stops and recovered zero weapons,” he added. “He’s basically wrong 95 percent of the time and nobody seemed to care about that.”

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