WE THE PEOPLE: Reacting to the stop and frisk debate

It looks like it’s “fair winds and following seas” for Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights commuters. Councilmember Vincent Gentile announced that the city will continue ferry service from the Brooklyn Army Terminal at 58th Street to Wall Street in lower Manhattan throughout 2013.

R train riders inconvenienced by the Montague Street tunnel closure have flocked to the new ferry service. The terminal has free parking and the fare is $2. In 15 minutes, commuters are whisked to Manhattan.

The MTA will provide regular updates on the R train tunnel project to the Traffic and Transportation Committee of Community Board 10. This will remind the MTA how important it is to have the work done on time.

The candidates running to be district attorney in Kings County squared off in a forum hosted by St. Francis College. Incumbent D.A. Charles J. Hynes hopes voters will look at his record while challenger Ken Thompson promises to “look at police precincts in Brooklyn that lead in stop and frisk and talk to the officers” about “reasonable suspicion” to stop a person.

If the district attorney had to check every police officer’s behavior and activity, it would leave little time to prosecute crimes. D.A. Hynes responded that “the overuse of stop and frisk has to be changed” but that the D.A. does not control NYPD policy.

Reasonable people agree that the stop and frisk policy employed by the NYPD has been overused. People disagree about what to do about it. Some people believe the best way to handle the problem is to facilitate tens of thousands of civil lawsuits or to have a federal judge or a federal monitor or an inspector general assume the responsibility for the police that should rest with the mayor and the City Council.

The volume of stops and frisks has decreased significantly in 2013. Commissioner Kelly instituted new and comprehensive training for stops by police. The district attorney does not and cannot assume responsibility for police officers on a precinct by precinct basis.

The appeal process has begun for federal Judge Shira Scheindlin’s decision which held that the NYPD stop and frisk policy is unconstitutional. The City Council has just overridden a mayoral veto of two bills: one, to create an NYPD Inspector General and two, to make it easier for people to sue the city for damages if they allege they were unconstitutionally stopped and frisked.

The solutions proposed seem to be like taking care of a mosquito with a hand grenade. The NYPD should improve its policies and training to take care of any improper procedures.

Another federal judge, Judge John Gleeson, recently found that a stop made by police officers which led to the recovery of an illegal firearm was unconstitutional. The officers testified that they saw what looked like the handle of a firearm under a sweatshirt but the judge found their testimony to be “unreasonable and implausible.”

The judge determined that the officers couldn’t have seen the handle of a firearm because one officer testified that he simply wanted to stop the individual and the written complaint did not include a statement that the officers saw the firearm before they stopped the individual.

The federal appeals court reversed Judge Gleeson after he overturned, as unconstitutional, New York laws related to the election of supreme court justices. The city should appeal this ruling as well.

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