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Federal judge declares NYPD 'stop-and-frisk' policy unconstitutional

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Tuesday ordered [opinion] the New York Police Department (NYPD) [official website] to cease using a "stop-and-frisk" practice outside of apartment buildings in the Bronx, finding the policy unconstitutional. In particular, Judge Shira Scheindlin opined that the method, said to be a crime deterrent by the NYPD, violates the protection against unreasonable search and seizures of the Fourth Amendment [text; Cornell LII backgrounder] because officers were not first developing a reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk supposed trespassers. The evidence, she said, "strengthens the conclusion that the NYPD's inaccurate training has taught officers the following lesson: Stop and question first, develop reasonable suspicion later." The policy developed as part of the city's Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP) [Manhattan District Attorney backgrounder], which allows property managers in the program to ask officers to patrol their buildings and arrest trespassers as a means of combating drug dealing in the public areas of such buildings. Despite TAP's intent, Scheindlin ordered police to "cease performing trespass stops" outside the private buildings, "even if the building is located in a high-crime area, and regardless of the time of day," unless officers had already developed a reasonable suspicion to investigate. The next proceeding in the case is scheduled for January 31.

Scheindlin's decision is the first federal ruling to find that the "stop-and-frisk" practice is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, though the NYPD has recently received a great deal of scrutiny for various allegations of misconduct. In July a report issued by a coalition of legal rights organizations said that the NYPD used excessive force and violated the rights of protesters [JURIST report] who participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City. Specifically, the report alleged that police frequently used excessive force against protesters indiscriminately, sometimes for no apparent reason. A month prior, a Muslim rights group filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey [official website] seeking to end the department's controversial surveillance program, which allegedly targets individuals based on religious affiliation. JURIST guest columnist Samar Warsi in May questioned the NYPD policies [JURIST comment] stating: "It is vital to be cautious when government officials use glittering generalities such as 'national security' and 'counterterrorism' to legitimize acts and policies in clear contravention of basic constitutional guarantees." In May, following an investigation into the NYPD's surveillance program, New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa concluded that it did not violate the Constitution. In March, NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly fervently denied [speech; press release] that the surveillance programs were unconstitutional.

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