Police have stopped and questioned more New Yorkers this year than last year, according to data collected by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Police stops are a tactic that has evolved dramatically in New York in recent years.
Mayor Eric Adams, who made crime fighting the centerpiece of his first year in office, says he believes the practice can be effective if officers are trained properly. In the first nine months of his administration, police reported 11,232 pedestrian stops – a 22% increase over the entire year of 2021, according to the NYCLU.
That’s still just a fraction of the number of stops made when the stop, question, frisk technique was at its peak. In 2011, when Mike Bloomberg was mayor, the New York Civil Liberties Union recorded 700,000 stops in a single year. In 2013, a federal judge found the tactic unconstitutional, saying it amounted to racial profiling. When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office the following year, he ordered police to cut back on using the tactic.
Few neighborhoods have felt the impact of this policy more acutely than Red Hook, Brooklyn, where there have been 1,025 stops per 1,000 residents over the course of the last 18 years, according to a new database by the ACLU of New York. That’s one of the highest rates in the city.
To make sure people are prepared, The Red Hook Initiative, a nonprofit group that works with youth in the area, is teaching young people to know their rights if they are stopped. They taught a 12-week class to people ages 14 to 21 in the community. RHI primarily serves young people of color who live in public housing in the neighborhood. That is a population that has been disproportionately targeted for police stops throughout New York City.
In 2021, 61% of the recorded 8,947 stops in New York City turned up no wrongdoing. Sixty percent of those involved people of color.
“We get a story about random police stops at least twice a month from the kids,” said Germain Thompson, a then-community organizer for the Legal Aid Society and instructor in the program.
Shortly after speaking with Gothamist, Thompson was named as the court-appointed community liaison overseeing the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices.
Earlier this month, we brought Thompson our own questions about what people need to know if they are stopped by the NYPD.
What are the rules police need to follow when they stop someone? Do they need a reason, and do they need to say what the reason is?
Since 2018 police have been required to tell you their name, rank, command and shield number at the beginning of a stop under New York City’s Right To Know Act. The one exception is during some kinds of legal searches – like consensual searches and searches where police have warrants, Thompson said.
Police are only allowed to stop you – and detain you briefly – if they have reason to suspect you committed, committing, or are about to commit a crime. And yes, they do have to tell you what the reason is, Thompson said.
What do I do if the police arrest me?
Thompson tells young people to remember what he calls the “six Rs”
- Don’t run or resist
- Don’t reach for anything.
- Refuse searches (unless police have a warrant)
- Remain silent
- Request an attorney
- Refuse all drinks, sodas, cigarettes, etc. (This is because officers often use these things as a way to obtain your DNA. “Now they’re able to grab that drink and swipe your DNA and put you in their DNA tracker,” Thompson said. Once a person’s genetic material is in the NYPD’s DNA databank, it could remain there even if they are not convicted of a crime.)
You are not required to carry ID in New York City, and you don’t have to show ID to a police officer. If you are issued a summons or arrested, however, and you refuse to produce ID or tell officers who you are, the police may detain you until they can figure out who you are.
Thompson says that often just giving your name, date of birth, and phone number is enough, but that if you do have your ID on you when you are stopped, and the police ask you for it, choosing to simply show it to them can often make things easier for everyone involved.
If I didn’t do anything wrong, should I still ask for a lawyer before speaking to the police?
“Absolutely, that’s your right,” said Thompson, adding that that’s especially true if they continue to question you after you’ve invoked your right to remain silent.
A police officer can use anything you say against you and others. While it is a crime to lie to a government official, remaining silent until you consult with a lawyer is not, Thompson said. You should ask if you are under arrest or free to leave. Even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable, never talk back to the officer or run away, both of which could lead to your arrest.
If you are arrested or taken into custody it is not only smart to ask for an attorney, it’s wise not to speak to anyone until you’ve met with one. That’s whether or not you have done anything wrong. Arrested means you have been charged with a crime. Taken into custody means you are being held because police suspect you may have committed a crime. Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer more until you meet with a lawyer.
If I suspect my rights have been violated, what should I do?
If you suspect an officer has violated your rights, say so assertively. Don’t resist them and don’t escalate the situation.
“Don’t be combative and don’t scream at the officer,” said Thompson.
Also, pay attention to your surroundings, Thompson said. Look for cameras that might be recording the interaction, and notice if people are nearby. If they are, assert your rights loudly. And if someone seems to be videotaping the stop, “make sure you’re saying your full name, your phone number, and your email address because they could send that video over to you and then your lawyer can use it in court,” he said.
What are police supposed to do before they search me or my property?
You never have to consent to being searched, or to letting police search your property unless they have a warrant. In New York City, police are required by law to let you know when they’re asking for your consent to a search and to let you know that you have the right to say no.
If you consent to a search, you run the risk of hurting your case in court later because whatever they find can be used against you and possibly result in further charges. You can withdraw consent at any time, Thomspon said.
If the police say they have a search warrant, ask to see it. If they don’t, say “I do not consent to this search.” Police cannot arrest or ticket you simply for refusing to consent to a search. This may not stop the search from happening, but it will protect your rights if you have to go to court.
If they search your car, they can only search places where the driver can reach. They can’t go into your glove compartment, back seat or trunk.
Thompson also points out that if an officer sees a bulge in your pockets they are allowed to frisk you, which involves patting you down on the outside of your clothing. Frisking does not count as a search, he said.
If I am nearby when someone I know is stopped by the police, what should I do?
Grab your camera and start filming. You have a First Amendment right to film the police, and police officers do not have a right to take or delete the pictures or videos on your cell phone.
“Record from a safe distance without interfering with the encounter,” said Thompson.
He warns that getting in the officers’ way at all while filming could result in you being arrested and charged with a crime yourself.