Federal Judge Finds NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Practices Unconstitutional

A federal judge Monday found that the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk search tactics violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities in the city and ordered a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms in the department. Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin did not find stop-and-frisks unconstitutional in themselves, but ruled that NYPD's policy on them amounted to "indirect racial profiling."

NYPD practices stop-and-frisk techniques (nyc.gov/nypd)
The ruling came in Floyd v. the City of New York, in which plaintiffs represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights challenged the massive program, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of street searches each year (4.43 million between 2004 and 2012, according to trial evidence), the vast majority aimed at young black and brown people, and the vast majority of which resulted in no findings of drugs or weapons.

The stop-and-frisk program did, however, contribute to the arrest and temporary jailing of tens of thousands of New Yorkers caught with small amounts of marijuana. Possession of small amounts was decriminalized in New York in 1978, but the NYPD effectively invalidated decriminalization by intimidating people into removing baggies of weed from their pockets and then charging them with public possession, a misdemeanor. Such tactics helped make New York City the world leader in marijuana arrests.

In her ruling Monday, Judge Scheindlin argued that the city's stop-and-frisk policies showed disregard for both the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. She said the evidence showed that police systematically stopped innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing.

Scheindlin didn't limit her criticism to the actions of police officers, but also held high NYPD and city officials responsible for what she called a "checkpoint-style" policing tactic.

"I also conclude that the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner," she wrote. "Blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites," she noted.

While Scheindlin wrote that she was "not ordering an end to practice" of stop-and-frisk searches, she said that the racially disparate manner in which searches were carried out demanded reforms that "protect the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection."

In addition to the outside monitor, Scheindlin ordered other remedies, including a pilot program in which officers in five precincts will be equipped with body-worn cameras to record street encounters and a "joint remedial process" where the public will be invited to provide input on how to reform stop-and-frisk. 

While Scheindlin noted NYPD's expressed purpose in the widespread searches was to reduce the prevalence of guns on the street, she said police went too far in their zeal, stretching the bounds of the Constitution as they did so.

 "The outline of a commonly carried object such as a wallet or cellphone does not justify a stop or frisk, nor does feeling such an object during a frisk justify a search,” she ruled.

And, after hearing more than two months of sometimes wrenching testimony from stop-and-frisk victims, Scheindlin deplored what she called "the human toll of unconstitutional stops," calling them "a demeaning and humiliating experience."

"No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life," she wrote. And it wasn't just fear of being stopped. Racial minorities in the city "were more likely to be subjected to the use of force than whites, despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with weapons or contraband."

The city and the NYPD had argued that the targeting of young people of color was justified because they were more likely to commit crimes, but Scheindlin wasn't buying, especially since the searches usually came up empty.

"This might be a valid comparison if the people stopped were criminals," she wrote. "But to the contrary, nearly 90% of the people stopped are released without the officer finding any basis for a summons or arrest." The city had a "policy of targeting expressly identified racial groups for stops in general," she noted. "Targeting young black and Hispanic men for stops based on the alleged criminal conduct of other young black or Hispanic men violates bedrock principles of equality," she ruled.

The ruling didn't sit well with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has defended and championed stop-and-frisk as an effective crime fighting measure. In remarks after the verdict, Bloomberg lashed out at the judge and the ruling.

"This is a very dangerous decision made by a judge who I don’t think understands how policing works," Bloomberg said."The judge clearly telegraphed her intentions, and she conveyed a disturbing disregard for the intentions of our police officers, who form the most diverse police department in the nation. We didn’t believe we got a fair trial," he complained.

“Our crime strategies and tools -- including stop, question, frisk -- have made New York the safest big city in America," Bloomberg said. "We go to where the reports of crime are," he added. "Those, unfortunately, happen to be poor neighborhoods, or minority neighborhoods.... There are always people that are afraid of police ... some of them come from cultures where police are the enemy. Here, the police department are our friends."

And the police know best, he added. "The public are not experts at policing," Bloomberg said. "Personally, I would rather have [Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly decide how to keep my family safe, rather than having somebody on the street who says, 'Oh, I don’t like this.'"

But the Center for Constitutional Rights suggested that the mayor should grow up and do what's right.

"The NYPD is finally being held to account for its longstanding illegal and discriminatory policing practices," the group said in a statement Monday. "The City must now stop denying the problem and partner with the community to create a police department that protects the safety and respects the rights of all New Yorkers."

New York, NY
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

Crimes Against Humanity.

If you have anything to do with drugs you cannot call on the police for assistance and real criminals who would steal, rob, rape, kidnap and murder are much more likely to get away with it.

Prohibition violates human rights on a mass scale and denies civil protection to targeted groups in the community.

So people are forced to carry guns to provide their own security and justice and it is why people who carry drugs are also likely to carry guns.

Prohibition forces violence and crime into the community.

Prohibition is a “Crime against Humanity”.

End the drug war, end stop and frisk and violence and crime will be significantly reduced. 

"This is a very dangerous

"This is a very dangerous decision made by a judge who I don’t think understands how policing works," Bloomberg said."

I don't think Bloomberg understands how the constitution works.

August 12, 2013, New York

August 12, 2013, New York – In a landmark decision today, a federal court found the New York City Police Department’s highly controversial stop-and-frisk practices unconstitutional.

In her thorough, 198-page ruling, Judge Shira Sheindlin found the NYPD’s practices to violate New Yorkers’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and also found that the practices were racially discriminatory in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

To remedy the widespread constitutional violations, the judge ordered a court-appointed monitor to oversee a series of reforms to NYPD policing practices and also ordered a Joint Remedial Process which will solicit input from a variety of stakeholders, including New York communities most directly affected by policing. The court’s ruling follows a 10-week trial that concluded on May 20.

It's lazy to suggest that

It's lazy to suggest that frisking people with no reason is making all of us much safer. So would randomly searching houses. Yet, we don't accept that because we don't want to live in a police state. 
The time has come to realize that having freedom means we will have to accept less security. Laws are there to punish the guilty but we can't move towards authoritarian just because we "think" someone might cause harm. - Adam Gottbetter

While I am not working very

While I am not working very much on implementation in CO, my colleagues and other local activists are. And they are doing everything they can to ensure the will of the voters is respected. For one thing, CO is a home-rule state, so localities already have a vast amount of control. But we also need to recognize that 1) localities decide for themselves how to handle alcohol (ie. we have a TON of "dry" counties nationwide where alcohol cannot be sold), and 2) people in any locality can possess and grow their own. It's simply a question of whether the localities want to allow businesses. I think the localities already acting to ban these new businesses are acting prematurely because they 1) don't even know what these businesses are going to end up looking like regulatory-wise, and 2) they couldn't possibly know where all their voters stand on the issue.

The federal court stayed this

The federal court stayed this order because of the appearance of impartiality!? Really!? Stop-And-Frisk would target the President of the US if he wasn't such a recognizable figure. Its an unjustified policy based on Gestapo-like security state. It is unconstitutional!

Police experts said the

Police experts said the ruling is likely to lead police to tread more carefully in their own strategies, while the stop-and-frisk practice in New York is much more extensively used than those in other cities.

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