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Inside the NYPD's New Stop-and-Frisk Training

By Jill Colvin | June 21, 2012 8:01am
Police acting in the first training skit frisk two men whose descriptions match a radio call.
Police acting in the first training skit frisk two men whose descriptions match a radio call.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

POLICE TRAINING HEADQUARTERS — Standing in front of a classroom at the NYPD’s training headquarters at Rodman’s Neck in the Bronx, Detective James Shanahan, a veteran police academy instructor, stressed the importance of courtesy during police stops.

"People need to be treated with dignity and respect," said Shanahan, standing at a lectern in the building, where thousands of officers will receive training this year. But this time he wasn't speaking to cops.

In a rare invitation from the department Wednesday, news outlets were invited for a firsthand look at the NYPD’s new stop-and-frisk training course, which comes as Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg work to defuse simmering criticism against the program, which last year resulted in the questioning of nearly 700,000 mostly black and Latino young men.

In this skit, the man on the right refuses to give his name to police after he is frisked.
In this skit, the man on the right refuses to give his name to police after he is frisked.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

The course — one of several reforms announced in May — was designed to emphasize courtesy during stop-and-frisks, which have been described by many people who have been stopped as a harrowing experience, frequently involving unnecessary force.

"The goals of this course are to enhance the safety and professionalism of our membership while reducing animosity and stress," Shanahan said. Since its introduction at the end of April, the course has been taken by about 1,300 new patrol officers assigned to high-crime zones, he said. All officers are expected to enroll in the coming year.

The centerpiece of the course is the curiously titled "The Nobility of Policing" — "a block of instruction," said James O’Keefe, deputy commissioner of training, "that we have designed to talk about courtesy and professionalism and respect, and the proper way to interact with people in a free society."

The section emphasizes how officers can defuse tensions using body language and tone, and tries to teach officers to "get people to do what you want them to do, while believing that it's their idea."

Officers also go through three real-world training exercises, where they act out scenes along with actors on an elaborate set, reminiscent of a movie lot, complete with streets, storefronts and a NYCHA housing complex.

In one scene, acted out for reporters, officers received a radio call reporting a robbery and then came across two men matching the descriptions on a corner while on patrol.

The officers ended up stopping and frisking two individuals, one white and one black, before a witness identified the white man as one of the suspects involved in the crime, and police made an arrest. The black man was eventually released, without his name being taken, following a heated confrontation.

In another scenario, officers on patrol in a NYCHA housing complex questioned a man who claimed he's been locked out of his unit, with no keys and no ID. The officers eventually got him to agree to leave the building, without incident, after they failed to confirm his claims.

"It should be handled how those officers just handled it,” Chief James Shea, commanding officer of the Police Academy, told reporters at the end of the exercise. “That gentleman was free to leave at any time.”

Officers going through training act out all three scenarios and are given immediate feedback about their performance, including whether they followed the guidelines and how they could have been more effective at preventing the situation from escalating.

The cours includes legal training about when a stop is allowed, too.

In addition to the new training course, the NYPD announced a new community advisory panel Wednesday, which will give community leaders a chance to discuss concerns with police tactics, including stop-and-frisk, with police brass.

“It brings them inside the policing world at a high level and also exposes our senior executives to their thinking,” said Paul Browne, the department’s chief spokesman.

Combined, officers said they hope the efforts help to diffuse tensions, without compromising safety.

But critics complain the measures aren't enough.

"We don't need panels and speeches.  We need real reforms, independent oversight and an end to the NYPD's destructive bias-based policing," said Communities United for Police Reform's Joo-Hyun in a statement.

"Until all New Yorkers feel safe from police harassment in their communities, the groundswell of anger against stop-and-frisk is not going to fade away."

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called the move a "welcome shift" but said concerns remain.

"While we are hopeful the Mayor has come to understand that fixing this broken policy is the only way to make our neighborhoods safer for both police and residents, we will measure progress by tangible results on the ground," he said.