The New York Police Department’s street crime units known as Neighborhood Safety Teams (NSTs) are frequently making illegal stops and nearly exclusively stopping Blacks and Latinos, according to a report released today by the Court-appointed Monitor. The rate of illegal stops is higher than the Department’s as a whole. The Monitor’s report also reveals that the Department’s internal review mechanisms are failing to identify illegal stops.
NSTs are the latest incarnation of plainclothes NYPD crime units whose abusive and sometimes lethal tactics stirred widespread opposition in the late 1990s and again in 2020. When he announced the creation of NSTs, Mayor Adams promised that “the Department must ensure that the best officers are selected for the position and that they are properly trained, equipped, and supervised,” and promised that independent oversight would ensure accountability.
That accountability, in the form of the Monitor’s report, shows that the NSTs are a threat to the constitutional rights of New Yorkers. Plaintiffs in the Stop-and-Frisk litigation and other advocates call on the NYPD to end this failed experiment. The NSTs, like the Street Crime Units and the Anti-Crime Units that preceded them in abusive conduct, should be abolished. (Statements below.)
The Monitor team audited 184 stop reports by NST officers by looking at the body-worn camera video and reviewing stop reports. It found that officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop in only 74% of the cases, meaning one in four stops was illegal. Even more troubling, the Monitor found that one out of every three “self-initiated” stops—those where there is no third-party complaint—was illegal. Across every category, NSTs made illegal stops at higher rates than other officers. Furthermore, in 230 car stops, weapons were recovered only twice—a rate of .08%—despite the NSTs’ stated mission of getting guns off the street. And in the 184 reports, while officers indicated 89% of those stopped were for “criminal possession of a weapon,” there is no indication that any weapons were recovered at all.
Perhaps most important, nearly 97% of those stopped by NST officers were Black or Latino. This combination—specialized teams of officers deployed to stop and frisk Black and Latino youth without particularized reasonable suspicion—is precisely why the department was placed under a federal monitorship. This stop rate is higher than that found to be unconstitutional in Floyd.
The monitor also found that the NYPD’s internal controls for identifying illegal stops are hopelessly broken. Reviewing supervisors approved every one of the stops that the monitor team determined was illegal. Review by the department-level Quality Assurance Division(QAD) also failed to identify illegal activity: while the QAD approved 84% of searches conducted by NST officers, more than half (55%) were illegal. Even where QAD found certain stops were unlawful and agreed with Monitor, the NYPD continued to defend those stops. The Monitor noted that “[t]he defense of unlawful stops, frisks, and searches is troubling, and we recommend the Department focus its efforts on correcting improper behavior rather than justifying it. “
“The racial disparities unearthed by this report make it more clear than ever that the so-called neighborhood safety teams are a failed, regressive, abusive, and discriminatory policing tactic that must be discontinued immediately,” said Anthonine Pierre, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Movement Center. “The NYPD continues to rebrand failed plays from the same abusive playbook and it continues to lead to discrimination and violence, especially in Black, Latinx and other communities of color. In light of this report, the NYPD must immediately dismantle these units and instead invest in real community safety solutions.”
For more information on Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, see the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.