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Top Cops in South Bronx Defend Stop-and-Frisk

By Patrick Wall | February 15, 2013 8:17am

SOUTH BRONX — After an NYPD report last week showed that officers stopped 58,000 South Bronx residents in 2011, critics were quick to assail the figures, noting that few of those stops led to arrests or gun seizures, while many may have fostered ill will in the community.

But two South Bronx precinct commanders recently pushed back against those criticisms, arguing that high rates of violent crime in the area demanded aggressive action and that, when used properly, stop-and-frisk can serve as a powerful tool.

Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, whose 40th Precinct logged the most stops of any Bronx precinct in 2011, and Inspector Kevin Catalina, whose 44th Precinct officers used force during more stops than in any other city precinct, made brief remarks about stop-and-frisk during questioning after recent community precinct meetings.

Asked whether the controversial strategy was helping to reduce crime in his precinct, McCormack answered emphatically.

“Hell, yeah!” he said. “We had a banner year last year.”

For instance, the number of shootings dropped from 72 to 51 between 2011 and 2012, and in the same period the number of murders fell from 21 to 12 in the precinct, which covers Mott Haven and Melrose, McCormack said.

The “hands-on approach to enforcement” — 40th Precinct officers stopped nearly 18,000 people in 2011 — contributed to those declines, he said.

Sensing a slowdown in crime, residents he spoke with embraced the stops as an effective police strategy, McCormack added.

“I think the community overwhelmingly is supportive of it,” he said.

Officers in the 44th Precinct, which covers the Concourse and High Bridge neighborhoods and Yankee Stadium, stopped nearly 17,000 people in 2011 — the third highest number of stops in The Bronx.

During those stops, cops used force — which can range from placing their hands on a person to drawing their guns — in about half of all stops, or 8,400 times, beating out every other precinct in the city, according to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Citywide, officers used force in just over a fifth of all stops, the NYCLU report said.

Inspector Catalina pointed out another 44th Precinct figure that trumps those in other precincts: the number of arrests.

“We led the city last year and in 2011 in arrests,” he said. “And a lot of our arrests are pickup arrests” — meaning people stopped on the street.

He could not say without looking at the data how many of the arrests stemmed from stop-and-frisks.

Some 40 guns were found and 1,776 people arrested or ticketed as a result of the nearly 17,000 stops in the 44th Precinct in 2011, according to an analysis of police data by Brett Stoudt, a professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and John Jay College.

Catalina also commented on the use of stop-and-frisk during sweeps of private apartment buildings — a program commonly called Operation Clean Halls — during a community precinct meeting Wednesday.

Last month, a federal judge ruled that police had unconstitutionally stopped thousands of innocent residents of Bronx buildings enrolled in the anti-trespassing program and ordered police only to approach people outside of buildings who they had reason to believe were trespassers.

(The judge later temporarily lifted the ban, citing NYPD concerns that it would be difficult to implement.)

At the meeting, Catalina said that the program had helped police crack down on drug dealing inside private buildings and that officers rarely stop innocent residents.

“We don’t want to do that and we don’t think we ever did do that,” he said.

He suggested that residents in buildings enrolled in the program, officially called Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP), could write letters opposing the ban to U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, whom Catalina said “may be living in an ivory palace.”

“That program helps to keep your buildings livable,” he said. “Because most people don’t have doormen to keep people out, like the judge probably does.”

A U.S. District Court spokeswoman said it is the court's policy not to comment on matters involving pending cases.

In her Jan. 8 ruling, Scheindlin wrote, “While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in The Bronx.”