New York retailers, police trade blame on 'shop and frisk'

Reuters

By Chris Francescani and Curtis Skinner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York police and retailers Macy'sInc and Barneys New York Inc traded blame onTuesday over complaints by black customers who were stopped bypolice after making luxury purchases, in a case that has roiledcivil rights leaders.

The state's attorney general launched an investigation intosecurity practices at the two department stores after fourcustomers complained they were unfairly targeted in a series ofcases the city's feisty tabloids have nicknamed "shop andfrisk," a play on a controversial policing tactic.

Barneys and Macy's officials said that police acted on theirown, without input from store staff in choosing to stop shopperswho included a black actor with a role on a HBO series.

Following a meeting in Harlem with New York civil rightsleader Al Sharpton, Barneys Chief Executive Officer Mark Leelikewise said his employees had no part in two incidents at hisstores.

"We believe that no Barneys employees were involved in thoseincidents," Lee said. "No one from Barneys brought them to theattention of our internal security and no one from Barneysreached out to external authorities."

Likewise, a Macy's spokeswoman denied that store staff hadany role in two incidents at the company's Herald Squareflagship. In one of those incidents, actor Rob Brown of HBO's"Treme" in June was paraded through the store in handcuffs afterpurchasing a $1,350 gold Movado watch for his mother, accordingto the Daily News.

"This was an operation of the New York City PoliceDepartment," Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan said in a statement.

NYPD chief spokesman John McCarthy countered those claims,saying that in both Barneys' incidents and the case involvingBrown at Macy's, officers were acting on information provided bystore security.

"In both instances, the NYPD were conducting unrelatedinvestigations" in the store, McCarthy said.

Another Macy's incident, in which a 56-year-old exercisetrainer named Art Palmer was surrounded by police after he usedhis credit card to buy $320 worth of shirts and ties, is stillunder investigation, McCarthy said.

'TROUBLING QUESTIONS'

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave the twodepartment store chains until Friday to turn over informationabout their policies for detaining and questioning customersbased on race.

"The alleged repeated behavior of your employees raisestroubling questions about your company's commitment to thatideal," Kristen Clarke, who heads the attorney general's civilrights bureau, wrote in letters to Barneys' Lee and Macy's ChiefStores Officer Peter Sachse released on Tuesday.

After meeting with Lee on Tuesday, Sharpton and otherleaders on Tuesday called for a summit with a "broad section" ofcity retail executives.

"This must be done immediately," Sharpton said. "Not weeks -days, hours. There needs to be a meeting."

Barneys and the New York City Police Department were namedin a lawsuit filed by Trayon Christian of Queens last week. Thelawsuit said police had detained him in April for two hoursafter he bought a $349 Ferragamo belt, and they then releasedhim without charging him.

Kayla Phillips, a 21-year-old nursing school student, saidshe was surrounded by four undercover police officers inFebruary after leaving Barneys with a $2,500 Celine handbag shehad purchased.

New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board is investigatingallegations of improper police stops of Palmer and Phillips,spokeswoman Linda Sachs said on Tuesday. Macy's has not yetresponded to Palmer's allegation.

In 2005, Macy's paid $600,000 to settle similar allegationsthat many of the chain's New York stores had targeted blacks andLatinos for particular scrutiny of theft, according to the NewYork Attorney General's office.

Crime statistics from the New York Police Department showgrand larceny has risen 31.6 percent over the past two years inthe Midtown North precinct, which includes Macy's flagship storein Herald Square, and is up nearly 4 percent in the Upper EastSide's 19th precinct, which includes Barneys New York.

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