Is the New York Police Department misusing its stop-and-frisk-policy? New York State Senator Eric L. Adams, a retired police captain who was elected to the state senate in 2006, thinks so. Adams, who represents sections of Boro Park, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Sunset Park, and Windsor Terrace, has been vocal about various issues that affect the neighborhoods he serves, including his objections to stop-and-frisk. He recently sat down with The Brooklyn Ink to discuss stop-and-frisk and other ways he feels the police and the community should work together.
THE BROOKLYN INK: Senator, you’ve been vocal about the stop-and-frisk issue, what is the main problem with it in your view?
SEN. ADAMS: Many people say they are either for or against this thing called stop-and-frisk. And they’re saying that with a lack of understanding of what it is. We have not given people a simple education on what it is. That’s where I believe the failure is. People don’t know what is being done, that’s wrong. I think 80 percent of New Yorkers, if they knew what the police department was doing with stop-and-frisk, would also join those of us who are saying stop the abuse.
How is stop-and-frisk supposed to work?
If a police officer observes someone committing, or about to commit, what appears to be a crime, the police officer has the right to stop that person, question him and frisk him. That means that if late at night I see somebody hiding in an alley and I’m Mr. Joe Cop, I approach that person and say what are you doing? If that person is hesitant about answering questions, I can question him further. If I look at that person and he has a bulge on his body that appears to be a gun or a weapon, I can run my hand outside that area to see if it’s a gun or a weapon. If it is a gun or a weapon, I can remove it and place the person under arrest. If after questioning the person, I find that he’s lying or committing a crime, I can place him under arrest. Without a stop-and-frisk rule, I could never stop and question that person.
That doesn’t sound unreasonable. What is being done in practice, in your view?
Police officers are told at the beginning of the night, “Officer Johnson you are going to go out and you are going to search 10 people. Now if you don’t come back with 10 people, or fill out 10 of those forms, it’s going to impact your vacation days. It’s going to impact your transfer.” So what is that police officer doing? He’s not looking for that person who is hiding in the alley, he’s not looking for the person that has possibly committed a crime. He’s now just going out to fill his quota. So little Johnny is coming home from school, [the officer] doesn’t care if Johnny’s committed a crime or not, he’s stopping Johnny and he’s questioning him. He’s no longer frisking to see if little Johnny has something that appears to be a weapon. He’s now going through his pockets, which the rule doesn’t permit. Wow, I found a joint on you, now you’re being arrested. That’s where the abuse is coming from. That’s why you are seeing large numbers of black and Hispanic children being arrested for carrying a joint or a bag of marijuana. It’s not stop, question and search, it’s stop, question and frisk.
How many people have been impacted by this policy?
The outcry that we’re having is that the police conducted over 700,000 stop-question-and-frisks last year. Over 95 percent of the people they stopped was found to have done nothing wrong at all. So you have a countless amount of young black and brown children who walk the street and are being stopped for no reason and being searched by police.
Do you think it’s important to make stop-and-frisk a national issue?
I believe it should be an international issue. We’re traumatizing black and brown children. We are making them have an inferiority complex and that’s a human rights issue. At a minimum, how you put it on a national level though is delicate because people will use it to polarize the election.
Some people think it’s an effective crime-fighting tool. What do you say to them?
When people commit crimes they should go to jail. We should have strong, proactive policing. But you can’t break the law to enforce the law. Stop-and-frisk is a good tool, but use the tool correctly. Don’t abuse the tool. Because if you stop little Johnny four times, now he’s anti-police. Now he hates the police. Instead of creating an atmosphere where police and the community are in partnership like in other communities, you create an atmosphere where they’re adversaries. That’s not good policing.
What do you think qualifies as good policing?
Good community policing is when you know your cop, you know his name, you see him on the beat. You walk past him on your way to your school or your job, so now one day when you walk past, you’re going to whisper in his ear, Officer Murray, there’s a guy down the block who’s been on the corner for a couple of days. You’re comfortable approaching that cop. You’re not comfortable approaching someone that you feel is just occupying your community.
Do you think that plays into why more cops have been shot in the last few months?
I never like to give people justification for doing anything wrong. But I do know that there’s a tipping point in life when people have had enough. I would hope that people won’t respond with anger. But you can’t control human emotions. People respond to the department based on their personal interactions, based on the conversations that take place in and around Christmas, Thanksgiving tables, barbecues. So if no one is stopping and searching and frisking my child over and over in my community, when I sit down at the kitchen table on Thanksgiving, I only have good stories. All of us feel good about having a cop on our corner but when that cop on the corner is disrespectful to your son as he walks home, you no longer want to see this guy on your corner.
There is a large outcry after what happened in Florida about volunteer community patrols. Should they exist?
Yes. Community patrols are residents that go out and partner with the police. They’re trained. They go through the police civilian academy. They wear jackets, identifiable jackets, they know what they should do and shouldn’t do. Their most powerful tool is not a gun; it’s a cell phone to call 9-1-1. We should not allow the Zimmerman and Trayvon incident to discourage people from ensuring public safety in their community.
What else can communities do to improve their relationship with police?
You can’t change the system from the outside. During recruitment time, churches, preachers, pastors should recruit young intelligent people to be cops. It’s a great career that’s often overlooked.
We’ve got to take personal responsibility. If your son’s coming home driving a Benz with no job, you know he’s doing something wrong. There should come a day when no cops have to patrol our block because our block is so safe. Go patrol somewhere else.
Are you going to run for Brooklyn Borough President?
We haven’t 100 percent decided if we’re going to or not. We’re looking at it. What we’re clear on doing is telling people that Marty Markowitz is not running for reelection. He’s term limited out so he can no longer run for the Borough President position. We’re not running against Marty. We’re looking to extend his legacy. It’s about continuity. I’m in the senate seat that he held at one time. And so it’s a natural seamless transition for me to go to Borough Hall.