Police Misconduct in the News

Complaints of police misconduct in the New York area are on the rise. Criminal cases involving police officers in 2011 included indictments or convictions for ticket-fixing, planting drugs on people, false arrest, warehouse robbery and gun smuggling. Reports of citizen harassment by police have also resulted in several high-profile lawsuits. Recently, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint in Federal District Court against two NYPD officers. The complaint alleged that the officers, acting under the Taxi/Livery Robbery Inspection Program (TRIP) were routinely detaining and searching livery cab passengers without suspicion of any unlawful activity. Nearly every person stopped and searched was black or Latino.

The TRIP program was designed to protect livery cab drivers who, as a group, are at increased risk of being robbed and murdered. By displaying a decal on his car window, a driver consents to being pulled over by police officers seeking to check on his well-being. The plaintiff passengers in the lawsuit are not challenging the legality of the stop itself but are objecting to the way police treated them after the stop.

In January, 2012, the FBI arrested a Connecticut police sergeant and three of his officers on charges of conspiracy, false arrest, excessive force and obstruction of justice. The indictment described years of mistreatment of individuals, mainly Hispanic, by police officers who then tried to cover it up. A Justice Department report issued in December, 2011found that police officers in East Haven, Connecticut, a largely Hispanic community, had engaged in biased policing, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and use of excessive force. Each of the four officers arrested faces a maximum sentence of 10 years on the conspiracy charge. Two of them are charged with the more serious crime of obstruction which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

A recent New York Times article reported on strained relations between police and neighborhood residents in East New York’s 75th Precinct. Although the numbers are vastly lower than 20 years ago, the area had the city’s highest rate of murders and robberies in 2011. At the same time, neighborhood residents experience the most aggressive level of stop and frisks of any precinct in the city. Of the 26,938 people detained and searched in 2010, 75 percent of them were black. Even without outright allegations of police misconduct, people in the neighborhood feel uncomfortable talking to police. In the Linden Houses, a large public housing complex, residents often feel harassed when witnessing frequent stop and frisks of teenagers. In January, 2012, police officers shot and killed a resident while responding to reports of an armed robbery. Residents worry about police shooting first and asking questions later. They also wonder how they can rely on the authorities in an emergency in an atmosphere of mutual distrust. These tensions illustrate the difficulty of balancing public safety issues against the need to safeguard the constitutional rights of community residents.