My old friend and Constitutional lawyer John Whitehead has written an article on New York City’s police department. He begins with a quotation from Mayor Bloomberg.
“I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world. I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance. We have the United Nations in New York, and so we have an entree into the diplomatic world that Washington does not have.”
It makes New York City sound like a separate nation. Whitehead thinks the city is becoming a model for a police state.
Boasting a $4.5 billion budget, a counterterrorism unit that includes 35,000 uniformed police officers and 15,000 civilians, and a $3 billion joint operations center with representatives from the FBI, FEMA, and the military, the NYPD operates much like an autonomous Department of Homeland Security—only without the constraints of the Constitution.
The capabilities of the department are astounding. The NYPD has radiation detectors on their boats, helicopters, and officers’ belts that are so sensitive they alert officers to citizens who have had radiation treatment for medical reasons. Moreover, the NYPD has a $150 million surveillance system, a network of 2000+ cameras, which is monitored by an advanced computer system. This computer system can detect suspicious packages and perform tasks such as pulling up all recorded images of someone wearing a red shirt, thus streamlining the process of tracking New Yorkers. The NYPD’s latest toy is Terahertz Imaging Detection, which allows police officers to peek under people’s clothing as they walk the streets. The NYPD cooperated with the US Department of Defense in creating this portable scanning technology. The NYPD even has the capability to take down an aircraft should the need arise.
The problem is, when bureaucracies get access to such tools, they use them.
The NYPD not only employs the latest technologies but also utilizes crackdowns and scare tactics that keep New Yorkers in a state of compliance. A 60 Minutes report describes the police state atmosphere: “At random, 100 police cars will swarm part of town just to make a scene. It happens with complete unpredictability. Cops signal subway trains to stop to be searched. And sometimes they hold the trains until they’ve eyeballed every passenger.”
One increasingly invasive NYPD tactic is the practice of stopping and frisking everyday people on the street without any evidence of wrongdoing. These activities are a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. In 2011 alone, 684,330 people were stopped and frisked by the police, a 14% increase since 2010. 88% were totally innocent. 59% were black. 26% were Latino. 9% were white. 41% of the stops were men of color between the ages of 14 and 24, but they only account for 7.2% of the city’s population. Less than one percent of the stops led to an arrest for firearm possession. The fact that the vast majority of people stopped are racial minorities indicates that the NYPD is executing a punitive policy against regular New Yorkers based upon racial profiling.
I agree with his conclusion.
One thing is for sure: what’s happening in New York illustrates how easily people are led into the illusion that security should trump freedom. However, as past regimes illustrate, such security measures eventually become tools of terror against the citizens themselves.