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NAACP Legal Defense Fund Urges Quinnipiac to Refute Flawed Poll on NYCHA Policing

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6/16/14

(New York, NY)—Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF) along with The Legal Aid Society called on Quinnipiac University to retract a recent poll regarding policing in New York City public housing buildings due to an inherently flawed and misleading premise.  In Poll Question No. 17, pollsters asked: “Do you think the police should or should not restore the program where they patrolled public housing projects and asked people in the hallways for ID?” 

In a letter written to Quinnipiac University Poll, the NAACP LDF and the Legal Aid Society explain that it is impossible to “restore” the police practice of patrolling public housing developments because it was never halted.  In public statements, the NYPD’s spokesman Stephen Davis even contradicted the premise of the poll question by saying that “vertical patrols in public housing continues” and that as many as 94,000 vertical patrols have been conducted as of June 8, 2014. 

“As the largest public housing system in our nation, the New York City Housing Authority is home to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers – a population larger than many American cities.  By releasing this misleading poll, Quinnipiac University has not only damaged its own reputation, but has perpetuated damaging and unhelpful misconceptions about public housing and the families who live there,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, Assistant Counsel with the NAACP LDF. 

In 2010, the NAACP LDF, together with The Legal Aid Society, filed a class action lawsuit (Davis v. City of New York) challenging the N.Y.P.D.’s practice of routinely subjecting public housing residents and their guests to illegal stops and false arrests. 

“Rather than contributing productively to the dialogue around real solutions, the poll instead distributed skewed information that provided a false choice of an additional and more aggressive policing presence engaged in unconstitutional practices as the only solution,” said Jin Hee Lee, Senior Counsel with the NAACP LDF. “There are fundamental issues with safety and security within developments – such as broken locks to entrances, malfunctioning intercoms, inadequately lit lobbies and dangerous stairwells – that must be addressed to help provide safety for residents.” 

Additionally, the N.Y.P.D. has never had an official “program” in which police officers ask for identification during vertical patrols. Officers patrolling public housing developments may only ask for identification under certain circumstances and not for merely being present on public housing property. 

The letter also explains that Poll Question No. 17 implies that it is legally permissible for police officers to request identification from any person encountered during a vertical patrol.  “To the contrary,” the groups said, “even City attorneys have stated in our lawsuit that officers must at least have an ‘objective, credible reason’ to approach and request information from someone.  Moreover, a demand for identification that prevents a person from freely walking away from a police officer constitutes a ‘stop,’ implicating the police practice commonly referred to as “stop-and-frisk.”

Most egregiously, the poll bases its conclusion off this flawed premise. The poll erroneously concludes that New York City voters, by a margin of 2-1, wish to “put police back in projects.” It’s also troubling that even after the N.Y.P.D. contradicted the premise of the poll question, spokespeople for Quinnipiac continued to defend its polling results.