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Judge rules NYC’s stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional

City vows appeal

CNN News Wire | 8/12/2013, 2:20 p.m.
Gay Pride March New York, 2012.

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A federal judge ordered Monday that the New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy be altered, finding that it violates the Constitution in part by unlawfully targeting Blacks and Latinos.

But city officials bristled at the contention that police racially profile suspects, and vowed to appeal the ruling, contending the policy has cut crime.

“You’re not going to see a change in tactics overnight,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters Monday, saying it would take time to implement the judge’s changes even if an appellate court doesn’t temporarily halt it.

Asked if he hopes an appeal will delay the order until he leaves office next year, Bloomberg said: “Boy, I hope so, because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying.”

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, ruling on a class-action lawsuit, wrote that the policy violated plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights barring unreasonable searches, finding that police made at least 200,000 stops from 2004 to June 2012 without reasonable suspicion.

She also found evidence of racial profiling, violating plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment rights guaranteeing equal protection.

The police department had said that the policy — in which police stop, question and frisk people they considered suspicious — is used to deter crime.

“The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” Scheindlin wrote. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution.”

Coupling Monday’s ruling with a similar decision in January, she ordered that the policy be altered so that stops are based on reasonable suspicion and in a racially neutral manner.

Among her orders:

  • She appointed Peter Zimroth, a former chief assistant district attorney in Manhattan, to develop and oversee near-term reforms, including changes to the NYPD’s policies and training.
  • In a pilot project, NYPD patrol officers in five precincts — one per borough — must wear video cameras. The chosen precincts would be those with the most stops in 2012. “The recordings should ... alleviate some of the mistrust that has developed between the police and the Black and Hispanic communities,” and “will be equally helpful to members of NYPD who are wrongly accused of inappropriate behavior,” Scheindlin wrote.
  • Other, longer-term reforms would come after community input.

The lawsuit, filed in 2008, went to trial for nine weeks this spring. The lead plaintiff in the case was David Floyd, a medical student who was stopped twice — once in the middle of the afternoon when he was in front of his home in the Bronx, according to the suit.

In her ruling, Scheindlin said more than 80% of the stops involved Blacks or Hispanics. The NYPD made more than 4.4 million total stops under the policy from 2004 to June 2012.

She wrote that the NYPD carried out more stops where there were more Black and Hispanic residents, at a rate disproportionate with crime rates. She also wrote that the department has an unwritten policy of targeting “the right people” for stops — encouraging, in practice, the targeting of young Blacks and Hispanics based on their prevalence in local crime complaints.