Bronx District Attorney Limits Prosecution of Stop and Frisk Arrests at NYC Housing Projects

Image: 

New York City’s rampant use of its stop-and-frisk policy, which has been shown to disproportionately target people of color, has faced a serious setback in recent months, according to the New York Times.

In July, Bronx District Attorney Sterling Johnson decided to cease all prosecutions of criminal trespass cases at Bronx housing projects unless prosecutors are able to interview an arresting officer to ensure the arrest is warranted.

Johnson’s office concluded that many of those arrested were innocent of tresspassing charges and often lived in the housing project where they were arrested for trespassing in or were invited guests.

Between 10 and 15 percent of police stops and frisks in New York City are conducted at housing projects. Police make arrests, if during those stops at housing projects, they decide that the person they’ve stopped does not live in the housing project and was not invited by a resident.

The reversal of this policy did not come about in a vacuum. Legal Aid and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit last week challenging trespass arrests. Also, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the NYPD and city council, has faced intense pressure in the past year over its stop and frisk policies, which uses a “reasonable suspicion” standard to decide whom to stop. As a result many people—overwhelmingly Black and Latino-are stopped and frisked for having a bulge in their pocket or for making furtive movements—although significantly less than 1 in 500 are found to be carrying illegal firearms.

The chief of arraignments for the Bronx prosecutor complained in a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in July that their office had found significant problems with trespassing arrests, explaining that they’d received numerous complaints from defense lawyers that people had been arrested in numerous instances even after they provided “persuasive evidence” at the time of the arrest that they were invited guests to the housing projects. In many instances, guests contacted the residents they were there to visit and those residents verified they had been invited and police arrested them anyway.

From 2009 to 2011, police arrested more than 16,000 people on trespass charges in public housing, according to a report filed as part of the federal litigation over the arrests.

 Some 685,724people were stopped and frisked, 87 percent of whom were Black and Latino residents. But Blacks and Latinos comprise 52 percent of New York City's total population.