Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NYPD Checkpoint on Franklin and Bergen

Traffic was backed up to Atlantic on Franklin yesterday as police conducted random stops at Franklin and Bergen. Officers at the scene gave conflicting accounts of the nature of the operation, with one claiming it was a sobriety checkpoint and two others saying it was a response to a shooting that happened "a few blocks that way [pointing southeast] a few days ago." The location also seemed to make tactical sense: vehicles coming south on Franklin were unable to see the police vans until they came around the turn just after Pacific Street, at which point they had no alternative route (Dean was closed to turns from Franklin by an officer on foot).

After talking to police about the checkpoint with another passerby, I turned and asked if she'd heard about the shooting (I hadn't, and I still haven't seen anything about it). She said she had not, and with a nod to the scene, quipped "Here we go again, more police harassment." Drivers, unsurprisingly, were equally displeased with the rush-hour checkpoint, and horns and shouts rang down the Avenue.

Checkpoints, like stop-and-frisks, are essentially an exercise in playing the percentages, allowing police to trawl through the citizenry in hopes of nabbing someone on the lam. These "random searches" often risk violating 4th Amendment protections against unlawful searches and seizures, though the Supreme Court has allowed certain types, including sobriety checkpoints, on the grounds that the benefit to society from these actions outweighs the damage to individual liberty (a police website reviews different standards for searches here, and the constitutional history can be found here). Nonetheless, arguments about the societal benefits of capturing criminals might be weighed against the fact that such searches are never truly "random," but rather conducted in neighborhoods that are primarily poor and/or non-white. As Bob Herbert, who has been waging a crusade in print against stop-and-frisks, points out, such practices perpetuate tensions and conflict between the police and the young Black and Hispanic men who are the targets of most of these actions.

As of today, there was no word on whether the checkpoint resulted in any arrests. With that, I kick this one to the able comment-writers: Do you approve of checkpoints/stop-and-frisks? Do you think they work? If so, should they be used as often as the NYPD does?


  1. Had no idea they still did this, it seems very Giuliani-era, not to mention counterproductive...they undermine whatever trust might exist by treating everyone as criminals, and what do they get out of it? A couple minor possession charges that (hopefully) won't stand up in court?

  2. Hmmm ... sounds suspicious. Given the proximity of the traffic stop to the local Muslim community, I wonder if this operation is connected with the attempted Time Square bombing the other day.

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  4. There was definitely a shooting on the corner of Bedford and Bergen last Saturday at 6:45 pm. Eight shots, seemed fatal.

  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/13/nyregion/13frisk.html?src=mv&ref=nyregion

  6. Stop-and-frisk is as unconstitutional as it is racist and classist. Putting that obvious fact aside for a moment, though, the idiocy of the logic of a police checkpoint in response to a shooting should be pointed out: what possible productive function can it serve which outweighs the seeds of resentment sown? Potential criminals simply lay low and avoid a location for an evening, while countless innocent people are at best inconvenienced and at worst harassed and violated. So here we see reproduced on our own dear streets the twisted logic of foreign military intervention and occupation. Something bad happens and the system responds with a show of force that ultimately increases, rather than decreases, the likelihood of bad things happening in the future. Oh, and to the person who called this "very Giuliani-era" -- sorry to break it to you, Bloomberg has orchestrated an even more effective and insidious attack on the poor of this city than Giuliani did, he's just less heavy handed about it.

  7. I couldn't help but think that this post reminded me of something, and today I remembered what it was. A little less than a year ago Nick posted another similar account[1]:

    "The officer on the ground when I went by this morning was very friendly and informative, and told me that the location of the unit was a direct response to the shooting on this block a few days ago... He said that the Skywatch will be there for at least a few more days, accompanied by increased street patrols, with the goal of averting any retaliation or further violence."

    Police checkpoints, retractable towers, bag checks and rookie beat cops are all a type of security theater. The entire point of these methods of enforcement is to remind the citizenry that the police are still there and can project their power. In my opinion, that's what Operation Impact is all about. (Impact, for those who may not be familiar, is the NYPD's program of increasing police presence in neighborhoods that they have deemed worthy based on a mix of crime statistics and political will. Usually what you see is increased foot patrols by rookie cops fresh out of the academy ). We're an Impact neighborhood, so we get to seel lots of this stuff.

    The problem that I have with all of this is that its not a long term solution. Operation Impact assumes that a someone fresh out of the academy who does not and will not live in the neighborhood that they are assigned to police, is ready to interact with the community in any positive manner. Taking a white kid from Long Island, and saying that we're going to send you to Crown Heights because its dangerous prejudices the dynamic between officer and community. This is why random stops and checkpoints are ultimately bad; it furthers the idea that we are all criminals who can be caught if stopped and checked out often enough.

    The increase of police presence in response to a shooting, be it in tower or checkpoint form proves little more than that the NYPD has the capacity to send more cops. It is both to reassure those uneasy about living near a place where shootings to happen, and to remind everyone to be on their best behavior, because we're being watched more now.

    [1] http://ilovefranklinave.blogspot.com/2009/07/skywatch-strikes-back.html

  8. Normally I would be so against these check points.., BUT after living in Crown Heights a little over a yr - and reading about the way to many shootings in the area - I'm open to discussion on the pros and cons and alternatives before I render a final verdict.


  9. I grew up in suburban PA and I can't tell you how many times I was stopped for random checkpoints. Usually for drunk driving/sobriety checkpoints, but sometimes it was for things like age (you have to be 18 to drive past 11pm) or simply to see if people had on their seatbelts.

    I never felt like people assumed I was a criminal, but certainly if the police officer saw something illegal in my car it was my own fault.

    I do this with my students -- they aren't expecting a desk inspection, but guess what? If I find toys/candy/pokemon cards, they're taken because they're not allowed in school and even if they weren't expecting me to check their desk, they now stop keeping those things on them.

  10. As a white bicycle rider, I don't mind it if they slow down the cars, and maybe get lucky and nail a less intelligent criminal, but no, this doesn't sound nearly as effective as trying to work with the community to build rapport and trust so that we can more comfortably rat out the miscreants.

    Maybe the NYPD can check out the Army counter-insurgency manuals. If Iraq can get turned around we should be able to effectively police Brooklyn.

  11. It hurts even more that someone can just be gone. that i work opposite this train station, that i was working that day & still didn’t know, that i never visited in France, that i took for granted they would ALL be there, that I didn’t understand the extent of illnesses -mental & physical.
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  12. copwatcher and veteran of Zuccotti Park, Christina Gonzalez, Green Candidate for NYC City Council, was assaulted by NYPD for filming one of their checkpoints. She managed to stand her ground and keep filming:

    "You Stole The Wrong SD Card"