Civil Liberties

"We are Coming to Find You and Monitor Every Step You Take": NYPD Stalks and Cyberstalks Juvenile Criminals


It's like Father Connoly's attempts to keep kids on the straight and narrow, but with fake Facebook accounts of hot teen chicks. The New York Times reports on an innovative [link fixed] (and highly invasive) new program to keep kids who've been arrested from committing more crimes.

Details with comments:

Officers not only make repeated drop-ins at homes and schools, but they also drive up to the teenagers in the streets, shouting out friendly hellos, in front of their friends. The force's Intelligence Division also deciphers each teenager's street name and gang affiliation. Detectives compile a binder on each teenager that includes photos from Facebook and arrest photos of the teenager's associates, not unlike the flow charts generated by law enforcement officials to track organized crime.

The idea, in part, is to isolate these teenagers from the peers with whom they commit crimes — to make them radioactive.

"We are coming to find you and monitor every step you take," said Joanne Jaffe, the department's Housing Bureau chief. "And we are going to learn about every bad friend you have. And you're going to get alienated from those friends because we are going to be all over you."

The police also keep tabs in more covert ways.

Detectives spend hours, day and night, monitoring the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts of teenagers in the program, known as the Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program, or J-RIP, and of their criminal associates. To do so, detectives create a dummy Facebook page — perhaps employing a fake profile of an attractive teenage girl — and send out "friend requests" as bait to get beyond the social network's privacy settings.

There are "nicer" parts of this stalk-y approach to citizens, like free turkeys and sneakers and help with gtting government benefits. And what sort of teens are targeted? Ones who live in East Harlem and the Brownsville section of Brooklyn–though interestingly, it targets only those young crooks who commit crimes outside their own neighborhoods. The program is based on the work of David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

"We tell these teens, 'You have a choice,' " Chief Jaffe said. "You will not victimize anyone else. If you commit a new robbery or any other crime that is going to hurt people, we are going to do anything we can when you get arrested to put you in jail. Your friends will get out. You are not getting out."

The background on the program:

Chief Jaffe created the program in January 2007 after she noticed a spike in robberies in Brownsville, a neighborhood with 21 public housing developments within 2.2 square miles. She tried traditional policing strategies, like increased foot patrols, but the robberies persisted, she said.

She decided to identify every juvenile under 18 who lived in Brownsville public housing and had been arrested for robbery, anywhere in the city. The result was a list of 106 teenagers linked to 132 robbery arrests in 2006. Only 24 percent of the robberies occurred on housing property — a distinction that was important to Chief Jaffe, because stopping these teenagers in Brownsville would have a beneficial impact throughout New York City…..

For Facebook, Detective Kennedy creates an avatar, typically the persona of a female teenager, and sends out "friend requests." Sometimes, accepted requests are followed by a come-on from the targeted teenager, like an inquiry about where the "girl" lives or whether she wants to meet up.

Department rules bar the detective from engaging, but he and Officer Ramos spend at least two hours daily monitoring the teenagers' chatter — alert for talk of fights, party plans and criminal activities. If a program teenager is looking for trouble, Detective Kennedy said he could often see it coming and hopefully intervene.  

These concentrated efforts have helped produce results: Of the 106 Brownsville teenagers, only 14 were arrested for a new robbery in 2007. The success led the department to expand the program to East Harlem in 2009.

That re-arrest rate is significantly better than the slightly more than 50 percent re-arrest rate to be expected from that category of criminal, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The rest of the story narrates some successes, and some failures of the Big Brother-ish (in all senses of the term) program, including an I guess supposed to be touching account of a sad youngster waving at cops as they leave his home after a visit from J-RIP officers to his 17-year-old sister, in the program for gun possession charge at 15 and a robbery and beating charge at 17. Then this:

"In low-income areas, nobody really believes in the police," a Brownsville resident, Renee Smith, said. When officers first visited her apartment after her 16-year-old nephew was arrested for robbery, Ms. Smith was suspicious and bemused. She looked at the two baby-faced officers, standing earnestly at her apartment doorway, prattling on about the program.

"I'm thinking it was some sort of trick to get into your business and get you in trouble," Ms. Smith recalled in a recent interview.