NYPD Stop/Frisk Decision, Part IV: A Reply to John Timoney’s NY Times piece

Posted: August 27, 2013 in Criminal Law, Police reform
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

On August 19, the New York Times published an op-ed piece on the stop and frisk case by John Timoney, former first deputy commissioner of the NYPD and former chief of police in Philadelphia and Miami.  Mr. Timoney is a respected figure in American policing; his article, “The Real Costs of Policing the Police,” was a direct shot at Judge Scheindlin’s decision that the NYPD must change how it conducts stops and frisks.  I won’t characterize or excerpt Mr. Timoney’s piece; it’s short and speaks for itself.  I urge you to go to the link and read it.  But it deserves a reply: Mr. Timoney gets important things wrong, and fails to reckon with costs he prefers to ignore.

Judge Sheindlin did not find that “the benefits of ending what she considers to be unconstitutional stops would far outweigh any administrative hardships.”  In fact, Sheindlin made sure she stuck to the one job a court has in such a case: assessing whether or not it is constitutional.   She explicitly, and properly, declined to weigh the costs and benefits of the program.   

Second, Mr. Timoney encourages skepticism of the court’s order to begin pilot programs using body-worn video (BWV), based on the reality show “Cops.” But instead of phony TV, examine the comprehensive field studies of BWV done in Britain.  Officers using BWV found it extremely beneficial for recording evidence, creating records, more rapidly resolving cases, reducing public order offenses, and promoting successful prosecution of domestic violence offenses.  The cameras also, of course, facilitated greater police accountability in the bargain. (My law review article on BWV in the Texas Tech Law Review can be downloaded here.)

Third, Mr. Timoney says that the problem would solve itself without court intervention.  Stops have come down considerably in recent months; officers “have gotten the message.” Maybe some have.  But the statements of the NYPD leadership both during and after the trial strongly supporting the program as it has operated over the past six years shows those leaders want the program maintained, not reformed.

Most importantly, Mr. Timoney bemoans the costs of implementing Judge Sheindlin’s orders, and those costs will be considerable.  But he fails to acknowledge the costs to the many New Yorkers over the years who were stopped, questioned and frisked without reasonable suspicion.  Apparently, Mr. Timoney believes that if the Police Department or the city don’t pay a cost, it doesn’t count.  The judge’s decision makes clear that this simply isn’t true: a huge cost has been paid all along.


  1. drjeffreyp says:

    British policing, British citizens are simply different than American cops and citizens. The costs of doing all she’s requiring, without – without – at least in my view, finding it to be unconstitutional are prohibitive. They usually are in these cases.

    Judges don’t care about the costs. You note here that’s OK and not a judge’s purvue. Perhaps. However when the costs of implementing a judge’s order (a liberal judge in this case) is prohibitive how much implementation and how fast do you think happens. With or without a monitor?

    Chief Timoney is right on all counts. Judge Sheindlin was wrong. The only people who lose here are the citizens and victims of NYC and those who come to visit.

    • British police, policing, and citizens are different, and the UK was where BWV was piloted and field tested first. But since then, BWV has been tried by US police departments too (though not, of course, the NYPD). What has been interesting is the uniformity of the reaction: When they have tried BWV, police in both the UK and the US become the strongest advocates for the technology. So you don’t have to take my word for it; take theirs.

      The judge certainly did find the NYPD S/F practices constitutional. If what you mean is that you don’t agree with her, you’re entitled.

      No, judges don’t care about costs. Police executives and other public servants should, and they must, since they have to operate within budget constraints, and Timoney was right to point this out. But what he missed was that there were costs being paid in forms that he didn’t acknowledge, by those outside the police department, and those need to be reckoned with as well. They’re not nonexistent because they are external to the police. The judge is, in effect, imposing costs for changing the practices that have been costing members of the public.

      It remains to be seen if any citizen or visitor will lose, in terms of crime going up. The NYPD announced this week that it’s S/Fs are back to levels not seen in ten years. Yet crime is down again. So perhaps S/F at the 2012 levels of almost 700,000 was not, in fact, gaining anything for us in terms of crime control. It is at least an open question.

      Thanks for your comments.

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