Judge finds stop-and-frisk policy violates rights

In the federal case challenging the controversial New York Police Department policy to stop individuals, generally without probable cause, and frisk them for contraband, Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin on ruled on Monday that the policy violates civil rights.

She also has ruled that an independent monitor is required to reform the policy and named Peter L. Zimroth, the city's former lead attorney and previously a chief assistant district attorney, as the monitor.
 
"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."

More than 5 million stops have been made in New York in the past decade, mostly of black and Hispanic men. Police must have reasonable suspicion to stop someone, a standard lower than probable cause needed to justify an arrest. Only about 10 percent result in arrests.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against the NYPD and the city on the grounds that the policy violated constitutional rights and protections and therefore should be deemed unconstitutional. Four men sued the department in 2004, saying they were unfairly targeted because of they were minorities.

Scheindlin found that nine of the 19 stops discussed at the trial were unconstitutional, and an additional five stops included wrongful frisking.

"Far too many people in New York City have been deprived of this basic freedom far too often," she said. "The NYPD's practice of making stops that lack individualized reasonable suspicion has been so pervasive and persistent as to become not only a part of the NYPD's standard operating procedure, but a fact of daily life in some New York City neighborhoods," she said.

Despite a finding that the stops in the case at hand were unconstitutional, Scheindlin ruled that the policy as a whole is constitutional.

“While I applaud Scheindlin’s ruling, I think it didn’t go far enough,” said Brooklyn attorney David Levine.

Criminal defense attorney Wilson LaFauire, also of Brooklyn, said, “It does seem like Scheindlin split the baby in half.
 
“The judge took the hybrid position in which we can satisfy constitutionality,” LaFauire continued.

“By finding that stop-and-frisk was constitutional, I do think we will continue to see a higher percentage of stop-and-frisks in minority neighborhoods,” said Levine.

However, some criticized Scheindlin’s ruling entirely. “Stop, question, and frisk is an effective program which has saved the lives of thousands of New Yorkers and keeps our streets safe. We have a chain of command in the NYPD, and a system in place to investigate the actions taken by police officers if they violate the law,” state Senator Martin J. Golden (R-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) said in a statement.

“Having the Justice Department install a monitor to look over our Finest will do nothing to increase public safety, and only act as a deterrent on our police officers to effectively do their jobs,” said Golden, a former police officer.

New York City Mayor Micheal Bloomberg expressed outrage at Scheindlin’s ruling. “No federal judge has ever imposed a monitor over a city’s police department following a civil trial. The Department of Justice – under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama – never, not once, found reason to investigate the NYPD,” he stated during a press conference.

 Bloomberg vowed to appeal Scheindlin’s decision. “Throughout the case, we didn’t believe that we were getting a fair trial. This decision confirms that suspicion, and we will be presenting evidence of that unfairness to the Appeals Court,” he said.

Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams cautioned against celebrating the ruling. “Today's ruling is not a cause for celebration, but rather validation that our cause has been just,” he said in a statement.  "For too long, this administration has refused to acknowledge that the law enforcement tool of stop, question and frisk had been terribly implemented by the NYPD.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, the nonprofit group that represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement: "Today is a victory for all New Yorkers. After more than 5 million stops conducted under the current administration, hundreds of thousands of them illegal and discriminatory, the NYPD has finally been held accountable. It is time for the city to stop denying the problem and work with the community to fix it."