Kha Dang, who made just six arrests out of 127 stops in summer 2009, insists officers were not stopping people without cause
In late summer 2009, few New York City police officers could match Kha Dang in street stops. Working with an aggressive plainclothes unit in Brooklyn's 88th precinct, the eight-year veteran of the force was among the NYPD's top four stoppers.
Dang racked up a total of 127 stops in the third quarter of that year. He performed 75 frisks and, on 37 separate occasions, searched inside suspects' clothing or belongings. He was, in the words of one civil rights attorney, an NYPD "all-star".
Despite his efforts, Dang's hit rate – the number of times in which his stops led to an arrest or summons, or removed a gun from the streets – was called into serious question in federal court this week.
Dang made a total of six arrests out of his 127 stops. He wrote one summons. He found contraband once. He never recovered any weapons and he only stopped people of color, primarily African Americans, 115 times to be exact. He never stopped a white person.
In two days of testimony that wrapped up Thursday morning, Dang explained his work to judge Shira Scheindlin, who is presiding over a landmark trial challenging the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk practices. Plaintiffs in the case seek to prove the NYPD has engaged in a pattern of widespread constitutional rights violations and racial profiling through its stop and frisk practices.
Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, over 4.4 million people have been stopped, roughly 88% have walked away without an arrest or summons and nearly nine out of 10 have been African American or Latino.
Dang described how in 2009 he was working in a high crime area, plagued by gangs and violence. He assured the court that when he and his fellow officers went on patrol in their unmarked vehicles, they were informed by quality intelligence reports and a familiarity with the individuals in their neighborhood.
"We pool a lot of resources," Dang told the court Tuesday. "These are not nice people, so we definitely keep our tabs on them."
He and his fellow officers were not simply stopping people without cause, Dang said. In July 2009, for example, he explained how a series of violent muggings near Fort Greene Park were linked to a group of young people. As a result, he would stop young people in the area surrounding the park, particularly those who spent their summer nights out after 1am. Dang's records for the time reflect that he stopped groups of three or more people on average.
In other instances, Dang said he would rely on repeated observation of individuals to justify his stops.
"We have a general idea of their behavior," Dang told the court Thursday, explaining that he would monitor the same individuals going about their lives on a daily basis. If he noticed anything out of the ordinary, what he called "weird behavior," he might make a stop. When asked what might count as "weird behavior", Dang said: "Furtive movement would be one of them."
The phrase has come up repeatedly in the course of the trial. Along with high crime area, furtive movement is the justification officers most frequently check off on departmental stop forms known as UF250s. Critics say it a dangerously vague term that allows officers overly broad discretion in conducting stops. In the third quarter of 2009, Dang checked off furtive movement as a justification for a stop on 45 occasions. He cited high crime area 105 times and used "time of day, day of week, season" to justify 98 stops.
Dang provided the court with examples of furtive movement which included: "hanging out in front of a building, sitting on benches or something like that," "standing near benches or trash cans," and "movements to certain areas of the body, usually the waistband or pants pocket."
Bruce Corey, an attorney for the plaintiffs, questioned Dang in cross-examination on his interactions with supervisors over his stop patterns.
"Has anyone asked you why only stopped people of color?" Corey asked. Nobody had, Dang replied. Corey asked Dang if his supervisors had raised concerns about the fact that he did not recover any weapons during the period in question, again he said no.
"I think the city thought he was their all-star," Corey said outside court Thursday.
"Nobody seemed to care that he made 127 stops and recovered zero weapons," he added. "He's basically wrong 95% of the time and nobody seemed to care about that."