Bill Bratton: There will always be stop-and-frisk

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Bratton. (via The Times UK)
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No matter what the New York City Council or the federal courts do to curb stop-and-frisk, the New York Police Department will still utilize some form of the controversial tactic, said former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton after a breakfast hosted by the Manhattan Institute this morning.

"They will put more oversight, more guidance, more training; it's all for the good," Bratton told reporters. "At the same time, they can't do away with it."

"One of the mayoral candidates is campaigning on the idea that he's going to do away with stop-question-and-frisk. He's out of his mind," he continued. "Quite clearly he knows nothing about stop-question-and-frisk. Stop-question-and-frisk is constitutionally protected by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio." Bratton called it "the most basic tool fundamental of American policing."

"So, while you may have more oversight and training, which is always good, more guidance, more reporting requirements, it doesn't change the fundamentals that are always involved in stop-question-and-frisk," he added.

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The only mayoral candidate to call for ending stop-and-frisk entirely is City Comptroller John Liu.

During the panel discussion hosted by the Manhattan Institute, the conservative think tank where the strategy of proactive policing was first developed, Bratton said the problems associated with stop-and-frisk are due to a "political decision" to reduce the size of the police force, which has occurred over the course of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure in City Hall.

"Budget decisions were made to reduce the size of the police force from 41,000 to about 34-, 35,000," he said, which he estimated makes for "a loss of about 80 officers per precinct."

To counter the loss of officers, Bratton said police commissioner Ray Kelly has relied on a strategy of deploying new recruits and cops from low-crime precincts to higher-crime areas, a plan called Operation Impact.

When the force was larger, Bratton said cops "were not flying all over the city," and they "could begin to understand good guys from bad guys."

Bratton compared Kelly's approach to the tactics previously used by American forces in Iraq.

"Basically, like [Gen. David] Petreaus did in Iraq, he surges," Bratton said. "He surges large numbers of these kids into those high-crime areas."

Bratton said he wasn't prepared as a young officer to be in a high crime area, and said the guidance young cops get from their supervisors in this situation is inadequate.

"They are not closely supervised," Bratton said. "So, if they make a mistake in how they do a stop-and-frisk, if they're disrespectful, if they don't have the appropriate cause, who's there to correct them?"

"So, the unintended consequence of Operation Impact is the stop-question-and-frisk controversy," he told the crowd.

Critics say the problem with stop-and-frisk is that too many innocent, mostly black and Latino men, are questioned by police. There is now a federal class-action lawsuit in front of Manahttan judge Shira Scheindlin, who has ruled against the NYPD in past decisions. The U.S. Justice Department submitted a memo this suggesting an outside monitor may be a sufficient remedy, if Scheindlin finds the department at fault.

At the same time, the New York City Council is considering a law to create a new inspector general for the NYPD, in part as a response to the complaints about stop-and-frisk.

Only two mayoral candidates attended the breakfast, held on West 44th Street.

Republican Joe Lhota, who was a top aide to Rudy Giuliani, spent much of the breakfast leaning back in his chair and nodding his head, at Bratton's supportive statements about the importance of pro-active policing.

Independence Party mayoral nominee Adolfo Carrion Jr., who is also the former White House director for Urban Policy, was also in attendance. After the event, Carrion told me proactive policing was necessary to keeping New York safe. He also said he was "not surprised" but rather "disappointed" in U.S. Attorney Eric Holder's court filing indicating his conditional support for the creation of a monitor for the NYPD. "I think they should have waited, because I think it colors the conversation. You hold back and you wait for the judge's decision. You don't have to say 'if the judge decides one way, I will do this.' Because you're prejudicing the discussion and you're creating an environment of bias."

As for the City Council's plan to create an office of inspector general, Carrion was more blunt: "I think it's a stupid idea."