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How to revamp NYPD's 'stop and frisk' policy? That's the hard part.

A federal judge on Monday appointed an independent monitor to revise the New York Police Department's 'stop and frisk' policy, which the court said amounts to racial profiling. That won't be an easy task.

By Staff writer / August 13, 2013

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, speaks while Police Commissioner Ray Kelly looks on during a news conference in New York, Monday, Aug. 12, 2013.

Seth Wenig/AP

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New York

Now that a federal judge has ruled that New York’s “stop-and-frisk” practices amount to a system of city-sanctioned racial profiling, attention shifts to a court-appointed independent monitor who will oversee the city’s on-the-ground compliance with constitutional guidelines.

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A close analysis of this case reveals a difficult task ahead: The monitor, former prosecutor Peter Zimroth, must supervise a revision of a crime-fighting tactic that city officials see as enormously successful, despite the bitterness it has caused in minority communities.

While the ruling does not put an end to stop-and-frisk, it does require it to change. So Mr. Zimroth must navigate a tangled thicket of precise legal protocols, police procedures, and paperwork, as well as the street instincts of New York City cops.

Then there's a mayor and a department seething at the court's findings. Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted Judge Shira Scheindlin of the US District Court, saying she “ignored the real-world realities of crime” and failed to give the city a fair trial. “And she conveyed a disturbing disregard for the good intentions of our police officers, who form the most diverse police department in the country,” Mayor Bloomberg said Monday.

But police are bristling most at the judge’s finding that their efforts illegally profiled black and Hispanic men. NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly called the judge’s ruling “disturbing” and “offensive” and “recklessly untrue” – a charge echoed by cops on the street.

“I’ve been here 32 years, and I take offense to the idea that Judge Scheindlin thinks we are racial profilers, painting everyone with the same brush,” says Sgt. Ed Mullins of the 67th Precinct in Brooklyn, president of NYPD’s Sergeants Benevolent Association.

As the mayor and the police commissioner defend the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactics, they both insist that minorities benefit most from the police department's aggressive targeting of high-crime neighborhoods. They trumpet the 50 percent drop in the city’s murder rate since Bloomberg first took office as a direct result of its policing. “There were more stops with suspicious activity in neighborhoods with higher crime because that’s where the crime is,” Commissioner Kelly said Monday. There were at least 7,300 fewer murders during Mayor Bloomberg’s 11-year tenure compared with the previous 11 years, “and if history is any guide, those lives saved were overwhelmingly the lives of young men of color.”

Even so, some experts doubt that stop-and-frisk can take all the credit.

“In the long run, I suspect that the crime rate is going to continue declining,” says Kelly Welch, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Villanova University. “This ruling won't really affect that much at all, because 90 percent of the time, when someone is stopped and frisked, there is nothing found; so, therefore, it’s not like they were really catching that many people that they wouldn't have caught anyway.”

At the heart of the case are NYPD tactics that go back decades, beginning with the introduction of CompStat, the computer-assisted crime map that allows police to target and then flood high-crime neighborhoods with officers looking for people exhibiting suspicious behavior – and then subjecting those individuals to stop-and-frisk.

“It’s easy to say there’s been over 4 million stops done over the past 10 years, and that [90] percent of them turn out to be nuthin’,” says Sergeant Mullins. “Ok, well, another way to look at it is, that it’s a really hard-working police department that’s really trying to find the bad guy.”

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