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

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] that the New York Police Department (NYPD) [official website] stop-and-frisk policy violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments [text]. The use of the "stop-and-frisk" tactic was popularized during the Mayor Michael Bloomberg [official website] administration, and over the past decade the city has conducted about 5 million stop and frisks. The vast majority of residents who have been stopped, more than 80 percent, have been black or Latino. Judge Shira Scheindlin noted that "[a] lot of people are being frisked or searched on suspicion of having a gun and nobody has a gun. Only 0.14 percent of stops have led to police finding guns. So the point is suspicion turns out to be wrong in most cases." Scheindlin further reasoned:

The City acted with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD's practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks. Even if the City had not been deliberately indifferent, the NYPD's unconstitutional practices were sufficiently widespread as to have the force of law. In addition, the City adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data. This has resulted in the disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of blacks and Hispanics in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. ... 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. 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 US Constitution.
In spite of ongoing litigation and political pressure, Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly [official profile] have defended the practice, crediting it with helping to drive down crime numbers, especially homicides, to historic lows. The Bloomberg administration also asserted that rather than profiling people of color in the city, the practice has saved the lives of minorities who are most often the victims of violent crime.

In January Scheindlin lifted an order [JURIST report] that previously required the NYPD to stop using its "stop-and-frisk" practice. There, the judge reasoned that complying with the former order would place an undue burden on the NYPD to train thousands of officers and their supervisors. Two weeks prior Scheindlin declared the "stop-and-frisk" policy unconstitutional [JURIST report] on grounds that it violates the protection against unreasonable search and seizures of the Fourth Amendment. She reasoned that officers were not first meeting their requirement of developing a reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk supposed trespassers. Scheindlin's original decision was the first federal ruling to find that the "stop-and-frisk" practice is unconstitutional, though the NYPD has recently received a great deal of scrutiny for various allegations of misconduct. In July of last year 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. A month prior, a Muslim rights group filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in New Jersey seeking to end the department's controversial surveillance program, which allegedly targets individuals based on religious affiliation. 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 [press release] that the surveillance programs were unconstitutional.

 

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