Stop-and-Frisk Secret Recording Comes to Light

An audio recording from a stopped teen and a documentary short opens discussions on the policy's discrimination and abuse.

Posted: 10/10/2012 02:15 PM EDT

An audio recording of a Harlem teenager being stopped and frisked by three policemen is bringing to light the police-inflicted abuse that runs through the New York Police Department unchecked. In the recording, which was obtained and released by The Nation, Alvin was stopped by three plainclothes officers in June 2011 and with his cellphone secretly created what is the only known recording of a stop-and-frisk.


Not only do the officers refuse to inform the teen why he's being stopped at all, they tell him he looks "suspicious" for being a "f--king mutt" and mock his dad for being a traffic cop, but they also use force, abusive language and threats during the two-minute encounter.


"I'm gonna break your f--king arm and then I'm gonna punch you in the face," one of the officers threatens.


They eventually let Alvin go, but as he later recounts, "I felt like they was trying to make me resist or fight back."


According to the NYPD, more than 1,800 New Yorkers are stopped every day and the New York Times reports that more than 20 percent of these stops involve the use of force. In addition, it calls into question just how arbitrary stop-and-frisk really is when young Black and Latino men are the ones being targeted so often.


"Of the nearly 700,000 stop-and-frisks performed in 2011, 84 percent were conducted on Blacks and Latinos, and only 2 percent turned up contraband, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights," Gawker reports.


"The tape brings to light what so many New Yorkers have experienced in the shadows at the hands of the NYPD," says Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP. "No child should have to grow up fearing both the cops and the robbers."


A subsequent documentary short titled The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Policy sheds light on the practice with Alvin's audio, secret recordings from NYPD headquarters and interviews with current cops. Silhouetted for their protection, police offers talk about retaliation when quotas aren't met and keeping quiet about systemic abuse because there's no safe place to file their complaints. This in turn draws a deeper wedge between honest officers and the communities they patrol.


The Nation writes:


"Officers who carry out such belligerent stops face little accountability under the NYPD’s current structure. The department is one of New York City’s last agencies to operate without independent oversight, leaving officers with no safe place to file complaints about police practice and systemic problems.


'An independent inspector general would be in a position to review NYPD policies and practices — like the recorded stop-and-frisk shown here — to see whether the police are violating New Yorkers' rights and whether the program is in fact yielding benefits,' says the Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel. 'An inspector general would not hinder the NYPD’s ability to fight crime, but would help build a stronger, more effective force.' 


NYPD spokespeople have said that stop-and-frisk is necessary to keep crime down and guns off the street. But those assertions are increasingly being contradicted by the department’s own officers, who are beginning to speak out about a pervasive culture of number-chasing."


"We need police," one of the officers says in the documentary, "but the police department's gotta change things."


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(Photo: thenation.com)

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