NY stop-and-frisk unconstitutional: judge
AFP and APNEW YORK -- A federal judge upended a cornerstone of New York policing Monday, declaring the city's controversial stop-and-frisk policy a violation of the U.S. constitution that unfairly targeted blacks and Hispanics.
August 14, 2013, 11:11 am TWN
In a 198-page ruling, Judge Shira Scheindlin said police randomly stopping individuals on the street and subjecting them to searches violates the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
It also runs afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law, said Scheindlin, who stressed how young black and Hispanic males were most likely to be targeted.
“The evidence at trial revealed that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has an unwritten policy of targeting 'the right people' for stops,” the judge said.
“In practice, the policy encourages the targeting of young black and Hispanic men based on their prevalence in local crime complaints. This is a form of racial profiling.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his administration would appeal the ruling, telling reporters that stop-and-search was a “vital deterrent” that had taken 8,000 guns off the street over a decade.
“There is no question that stop, question and frisk has saved countless lives,” he said.
Total Halt Not Ordered
Scheindlin, a U.S. District Court judge, refrained from ordering a total halt to stop-and-frisk.
But in a move unprecedented in New York police history, she ordered the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure that such searches are carried out “in accordance with the Constitution.”
Bloomberg bristled at that idea, saying it was tantamount to putting the NYPD and its nearly 35,000 uniformed personnel “into receivership.”
Of the 4.4 million cases between January 2004 and January 2012 in which New York police briefly detained individuals on suspicion of criminal involvement, 52 percent involved blacks and 31 percent Hispanics. Only 10 percent involved whites.
“The city and its highest officials believe that blacks and Hispanics should be stopped at the same rate as their proportion of the local criminal suspect population,” Scheindlin said.
“But this reasoning is flawed because the stopped population is overwhelmingly innocent — not criminal.”
Bloomberg said police have done exactly what the courts and constitution allow to keep the city safe. The judge simply does not understand “how policing works,” he said, and the result could be a return to the days of crime and mayhem from the 1980s and 1990 — when murders hit an all-time high of 2,245.
“This is a dangerous decision made by a judge who I think does not understand how policing works and what is compliant with the U.S. Constitution as determined by the Supreme Court,” he said.
About half the people who are stopped are subject only to questioning. Others have their bags or backpacks searched, and sometimes police conduct full pat-downs. Only 10 percent of all stops result in arrest, and a weapon is recovered a small fraction of the time.
'More than 7,300 people ... would be dead'
The ruling was a victory for the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York group that filed a class-action lawsuit seeking federal oversight of stop-and-frisk.
“Today is a victory for all New Yorkers,” it said in a statement.
“After more than five million stops conducted under the current administration, hundreds of thousands of them illegal and discriminatory, the New York Police Department has finally been held accountable,” it added.
“It is time for the city to stop denying the problem and work with the community to fix it.”
Bloomberg, completing his third and final term as mayor, said stop-and-frisk was one of the crime-fighting tools that had made New York “the safest big city in America.”