Judge Finds NYC ‘Stop And Frisk’ Unconstitutional, Orders Monitor

In a landmark decision involving two class-action lawsuits handed down Aug. 12, a federal court found the New York City Police Department’s highly controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy unconstitutional as practiced on at least two grounds.

TGM has previously reported on the “stop and frisk” program that was originated under Mayor Rudy Giuliani but vastly accelerated during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure.

Bloomberg’s office announced immediately after the 198-page ruling that the city would appeal, although some civil rights groups urged the mayor to abandon an appeal.

In her ruling, federal Circuit Judge Shira Sheindlin found the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” practices violate New Yorkers’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and also found 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 followed a 10-week trial that concluded on May 20. The lead class action lawsuit, Floyd v. City of New York, was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

CCR Senior Staff Attorney Darius Charney said, “This historic victory is the result not only of our 14 years of litigation, but of decades’ worth of efforts by activists, grassroots and legal organizations, and affected communities. The NYPD is finally being held to account for its longstanding illegal and discriminatory policing practices. 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.”

A CCR statement noted that in 2011, the NYPD reported a record 685,724 stops—a 600% increase since Raymond Kelly took over as NYPD Commissioner in 2002. Eighty-four percent of those stopped were Black or Latino, and 88% of the people stopped were neither arrested nor received summonses. Despite the stated purpose of the policy, weapons and contraband were recovered less than 2% of the time.

In concluding that the City is liable for a widespread pattern and practice of stops and frisks in violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of all New Yorkers, the Court explained:

“(The City has) received both actual and constructive notice since at least 1999 of widespread Fourth Amendment violations occurring as a result of the NYPD’s stop and frisk practices. Despite this notice, they deliberately maintained and even escalated policies and practices that predictably resulted in even more widespread Fourth Amendment violations. . . . The NYPD has repeatedly turned a blind eye to clear evidence of unconstitutional stops and frisks.”

Police can legally stop, question and search if they have probable cause that a crime has been committed, or have even a reasonable suspicion.

The day after the ruling, former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) came out in defense of the stop and frisk policy of the NYPD, pointing to the lives that it’s saved.

“The effect of the policy is thousands of lives that are saved, largely low-income, minority lives, because we have much lower rates of violent crime,” Pataki said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Reacting to claims that the stop and frisk program has only been used primarily in low-income and minority communities, Pataki agreed with Mayor and Commissioner Kelly that, “You go where the crime is if you want to stop the crime.”

Three weeks before Scheindlin’s ruling, Newsmax reported that Kelly—favored by some politicians to head the nation’s Department of Homeland Security but assailed by critics for the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy—staunchly defended the tactic for taking “tens of thousands” of weapons off the street and saving 7,383 lives.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Kelly touted a precipitous drop in the city’s murder rate during Bloomberg’s administration—from 13,212 murders in the 11 years before the Bloomberg took office to 5,849 murders during his term.

“That’s 7,383 lives saved—and if history is a guide, they are largely the lives of young men of color,” Kelly wrote in the piece, which appeared online July 22, adding murders are down 29% so far this year from 2012’s 50-year low.

“As a city, we have to face the reality that New York’s minority communities experience a disproportionate share of violent crime,” he wrote. “To ignore that fact, as our critics would have us do, would be a form of discrimination in itself.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which had sponsored the other case before Scheindlin, hailed her decision as a major victory for New Yorkers and for fair, just and effective policing by the nation’s largest police force.

“We welcome the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the much-needed reform of NYPD stop-and-frisk practices and we look forward to the broad process of community engagement that the court has ordered to formulate fundamental reforms of stop-and-frisk,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a website statement.

“Today’s decision ordering changes not only to the general stop-and-frisk program, but also to the separate program of trespass stops at private residential buildings shows that every aspect of stop-and-frisk must be reformed,” NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said.

Scheindlin’s opinion covers two cases: Floyd v. City of New York, the class action lawsuit brought by the CCR challenging constitutional abuses in the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program and Ligon v. City of New York, a class action lawsuit filed by the NYCLU and other citizen groups, challenging the NYPD’s enforcement of Operation Clean Halls—a citywide program within the “stop-and-frisk” regime that allows police officers to patrol in and around certain private apartment buildings.

The Floyd case, filed in 2008, stems from the earlier racial profiling case, Daniels, et al. v. City of New York, et al. that led to the disbanding of the infamous Street Crime Unit and a settlement with the City in 2003.