• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Federal Judge Finds NYPD’s “Stop And Frisk” Policy Unconstitutional

Stop And Frisk Button

A Federal Judge in New York has handed a major defeat to the New York City Police Department and Mayor Mike Bloomberg by handing down a ruling declaring the department’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy to be unconstitutional:

In a repudiation of a major element in the Bloomberg administration’s crime-fighting legacy, a federal judge has found that the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of minorities in New York, and called for a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms.

In a decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision.

These stop-and-frisk episodes, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, according to the ruling. It also found violations with the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Judge Scheindlin found that the city “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data.” She rejected the city’s arguments that more stops happened in minority neighborhoods solely because those happened to have high-crime rates.

“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,” she wrote.

Noting that the Supreme Court had long ago ruled that stop-and-frisks were constitutionally permissible under certain conditions, the judge stressed that she was “not ordering an end to the practice of stop-and-frisk. The purpose of the remedies addressed in this opinion is to ensure that the practice is carried out in a manner that protects the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection.”

City officials did not immediately comment on the ruling, or on whether they planned to appeal. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg scheduled a news conference at 1 p.m. to discuss the decision.

To fix the constitutional violations, the judge designated an outside lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor the Police Department’s compliance with the Constitution.

Judge Scheindlin also ordered a number of other remedies, including a pilot program in which officers in at least five precincts across the city will wear body-worn cameras in an effort to record street encounters. She also ordered a “joint remedial process” — in essence, a series of community meetings — to solicit public input on how to reform stop-and-frisk.

The decision to install Mr. Zimroth, a partner in the New York office of Arnold & Porter, LLP, and a former corporation counsel and prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, will leave the department under a degree of judicial control that is certain to shape the policing strategies under the next mayor.

Judge Scheindlin found that the “stop and frisk” policy violated both the 4th and 14th Amendments in that the constituted both an unreasonable search under the circumstances and a search that was being applied in a discriminatory manner based upon the disparate impact of the policy on people based on race and ethnicity.  As has been documented numerous times, the overwhelming majority of the people stopped pursuant to the policy were black or Hispanic, and the vast majority of those were young men. Moreover, as Judge Scheindlin observed after an evidentiary hearing earlier this year, most of these searches ended without any arrest at all:

After listening to two months of testimony on the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin left little doubt about her views of their effectiveness in helping detect criminal behavior.

“A lot of people are being frisked or searched on suspicion of having a gun and nobody has a gun,” Judge Scheindlin, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said on Monday during closing arguments in the trial. “So the point is: the suspicion turns out to be wrong in most of the cases.”

Judge Scheindlin’s remarks punctuated more than five hours of summations, as civil rights lawyers and those representing the city offered dueling interpretations of many weeks of testimony from scores of witnesses. And her remarks were far more critical and blunt than those she had previously made during the trial.

Observing that only about 12 percent of police stops resulted in an arrest or summons, Judge Scheindlin, who is hearing the case without a jury, focused her remarks on Monday on the other 88 percent of stops, in which the police did not find evidence of criminality after a stop. She characterized that as “a high error rate” and remarked to a lawyer representing the city, “You reasonably suspect something and you’re wrong 90 percent of the time.”

“That is a lot of misjudgment of suspicion,” Judge Scheindlin said, suggesting officers were wrongly interpreting innocent behavior as suspicious.

It’s important to note that Scheindlin’s ruling doesn’t eliminate the “stop and frisk” policy altogether. Instead, she appointed a monitor who will report back to the Court regarding changes to the policy that will have to be made to address the issues raised in her opinion and the NYPD is likely to remain under Court monitoring with regard to this policy for some years to come. At the very least, it seems clear that police will have to come up with something more substantial to back up their suspicion than they have been operating under to date. In other words, being a young black man hanging out on a street corner isn’t going to be sufficient grounds to search someone on a street corner without a warrant. Quite honestly, one wonders why it is taking a Federal Judge to advise the NYPD of this fact.

On the whole, this seems like the correct decision. It’s been clear for some time that police officers in New York were using “stop and frisk” as an excuse to unduly harass mostly younger black and hispanic men. To the extent the practice was uncovering criminal activity of any kind, it typically resulted in the discovery of very small amounts of marijuana that was clearly meant for personal use. While illegal, such possession cases seem hardly like an efficient use of police resources. Indeed, just last year New York’s Governor proposed that possession of small amounts of marijuana be decriminalized, in part in response to the fact that the NYPD’s policy had resulted in a surge of arrests on such charges. Given the realities of crime in a large city like New York, it hardly makes sense for police to be spending so much time dealing with such relatively insignificant charges. Hopefully, with this ruling, they’ll be able to divert their resources into more important areas of law enforcement.

Here’s the opinion:

Lloyd et al v. City of New York by dmataconis

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ben says:

    I was extremely happy with this ruling and felt like there is going to be some genuine change in policy here. Until I got to the part where I saw who the judge appointed as the “independent” monitor who will oversee the police.

    The judge herself described him as “the city’s former lead attorney and previously a chief assistant district attorney. In both roles, Zimroth worked closely with the NYPD”.

    Well that certainly sounds “independent” doesn’t it? I’m sure he’ll really bring the hammer down. I hope you can hear my eyes rolling as you read this.

    Funny how they would never even consider appointing someone with some defense experience, or god forbid, maybe someone with some civil rights experience.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  2. C. Clavin says:

    “…Given the realities of crime in a large city like New York, it hardly makes sense for police to be spending so much time dealing with such relatively insignificant charges. Hopefully, with this ruling, they’ll be able to divert their resources into more important areas of law enforcement…”

    I think you need to read James’ post on Holder.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  3. anjin-san says:

    Until I got to the part where I saw who the judge appointed as the “independent” monitor who will oversee the police.

    SOP. Back in my restaurant days I used to wait on a local “Citizens review board” that allegedly oversaw the local PD when it strayed into gray areas. In reality it consisted entirely of police and city insiders who were working to “keep people out of things that are none of their business”, such as using money seized in drug bust to pay for settlements in lawsuits brought against the PD – something that is actually illegal in CA.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  4. JKB says:

    @anjin-san:

    Surely, you impugn these people who draw city pay and expense account for their efforts?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Mu says:

    “Stop and frisk” now to be replaced by “feel threatened and shoot”. First 100 dead bystanders to get free funeral with note of regret from Bloomberg.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. anjin-san says:

    @ JBK

    Surely, you impugn these people who draw city pay and expense account for their efforts?

    No, I just realize that government, like the majority of human endeavors, has both positive and negative aspects. To promote a more perfect union, we should work both to support the positive aspects of government and to curb its excesses.

    We saw how well the path of the ideologue worked for the Soviet Union. It’s curious that you should choose that same road.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  7. Brett says:

    I strongly approve of that pilot program requiring police officers to record what they’re doing on camera. The pilot programs with it conducted elsewhere have had highly positive effects.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  8. C. Clavin says:

    “…To promote a more perfect union, we should work both to support the positive aspects of government and to curb its excesses…”

    Smarter Government…not necessarily bigger, not necessarily smaller…just smarter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  9. JKB says:

    @anjin-san: To promote a more perfect union, we should work both to support the positive aspects of government and to curb its excesses.

    And that is best done by keeping government small and focused on a few key core areas. Promoting the growth of government and the expansion of its powers will only amplify the negative aspects and make curbing its excesses near impossible. This is exponentially true when the expansion and power is given to remote federal authorities rather than local government which can be more readily brought to account.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 10

  10. JKB says:

    I see Bloomberg and Kelly are out defending their stop and harass program. What they don’t say and the media has conveniently forgot to ask is what in all these years have they done to lower the massive error rate in officer “probably cause” decisions.

    A program legitimately focused on efficiently using police on the street to interdict crime would seek to increase the validity of the stops by reducing the obviously massive wrongful probable cause used to choose those to stop and frisk. Unless the real goal is to harass and intimidate the average citizen (of color) then the probable cause determinations used are woefully inadequate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. David M says:

    @JKB:

    And that is best done by keeping government small and focused on a few key core areas. Promoting the growth of government and the expansion of its powers will only amplify the negative aspects and make curbing its excesses near impossible.

    So explain what that actually means for health care policy? Medicare for all? End Medicare? End Obamacare? Turn all health care over to individual states? Single payer?

    This is exponentially true when the expansion and power is given to remote federal authorities rather than local government which can be more readily brought to account.

    Local governments are also a lot easier to corrupt and their decisions generally get much less press coverage. It’s by no means a sure thing that local government is “better”. There are many cases where we’re much better off having the federal government involved, rather than 50 State governments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. C. Clavin says:

    “…And that is best done by keeping government small and focused on a few key core areas…”

    Nonsense. Pure nonsense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  13. anjin-san says:

    @ JKB

    And that is best done by keeping government small and focused on a few key core areas.

    In contemporary conservative politics that tends to mean “government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich”, and screw everyone else.

    No sale.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  14. Pharoah Narim says:

    @JKB: You are probably the type that would know that size is secondary to function and effectiveness. Just a feeling….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  15. Just an FYI: The same “logic” behind stop and frisk is the same when defending gun control, the Patriot Act, domestic spying, the warfare state, the drug war and so on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    This is exponentially true when the expansion and power is given to remote federal authorities rather than local government which can be more readily brought to account.

    That is completely the opposite of reality. It’s very hard for, say, Obama to be personally corrupt, because so many people watch him at all times. It’s very easy for a small town mayor, on the other hand, to be personally corrupt, both because it’s easier for him to intimidate or bribe other locals and because most small local governments lack an independent local newspaper or other media keeping them in check.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  17. C. Clavin says:

    “…That is completely the opposite of reality…”

    JKB untethered from reality?
    You don’t say…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ Rafer Janders

    And there are all sorts of legitimate local government functions that wander very close to the line that defines corruption. In the small town I lived in for 20 years, the city attorney used to sit in the back row at city council meetings reading a newspaper. He got $400 an hour for that. A police captain got full lifetime disability for “stress” – in one of the most crime free towns in America – and opened a security consulting business six weeks after leaving the force. The list goes on forever, and nothing changes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  19. Matt says:

    @Rafer Janders: Indeed I’ve had quite a bit of dealings with various forms of local government in different states. I can confidently say that most of them are corrupt in ways that national politicians could only dream of.

    I’ve also noticed that a lot of the time when people are complaining about something related to government it’s usually the local government to blame. Of course those same people think it’s all the fed’s faut..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  20. C. Clavin says:

    That is completely the opposite of reality.

    It’s not actually JKB’s fault. It’s just that he/she has been misled for years by the leaders of the cult.
    Reagan preached about Government being the problem…while he proceeded to explode the size of the Government.
    Bush41 actually did a pretty good job…but he was run out of town by the Party Establishment…and they have been telling lies about him ever since.
    Bush43 talked about returning the peoples money to them…while he ran up massive deficits and left behind economic obligations that are by far the biggest part of our exploding debt today.
    So JKB’s inability to deal with reality is just the manifestation of his/her brainwashing…tragic really…but very typical in cults…cults like the Republican party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  21. Tyrell says:

    While profiling based on race may not be the best thing, profiling that centers of crime in a city or anywhere else is certainly wise and legal. There is no reason for police to focus and concentrate on areas of town with very low crime. The police should focus on the areas with the highest crime rates. Study the areas, find out what kind of crime is going on, identify the crime leaders, the dope peddlers, the gang leaders, the bank robber gangs, the car thieves, and the burglars. Then zero in, surround, cut off, and arrest. Make sure that the local judges and courts put them away for a long time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  22. anjin-san says:

    @ Tyrell

    identify the crime leaders, the dope peddlers, the gang leaders, the bank robber gangs, the car thieves, and the burglars. black people

    FTFY

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  23. al-Ameda says:

    Has anyone asked George Zimmerman what he thinks of this ruling?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Latino_in_Boston says:

    About time.

    The numbers don’t lie. Stop and frisk is racist and therefore unconstitutional. It saddens me that there’s plenty of people who would love to humiliate their fellow citizens of color just so that they can feel a little safer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  25. dazedandconfused says:

    @Latino_in_Boston:

    It’s definitely unconstitutional and unfair, but when there’s a full-on gang war happening, as there was in Chicago last year and before, many called for more police action, and not less. When the cops stopped many who lived in the neighborhoods called for them to start doing it again.

    It should not be standard procedure, no question about it, but exceptional conditions sometimes call for exceptional actions. NYPD’s continued long after they cleaned up the worst of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  26. @dazedandconfused:

    Or these cities could actually let people excerise their second amendment rights. Gangbangers, neo-nazi’s and other thugs thrive when ways to defend themselves are handcuffed by the state.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  27. dazedandconfused says:

    @Cynical in New York:

    Nonsense. The gang bangers kill mostly each other, not their customers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  28. @dazedandconfused:

    Your confusing gang bangers with mobsters. Gang bangers could care less who they kill, mobsters are alittle more selective. Even then it still doesn’t negate the fact that in high crime places, gun ownership is restricted. Relying on the police you is a fools errand and the Supreme Court ruled a few years ago that they do not have an obligation to protect you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

  29. wr says:

    @Cynical in New York: “Or these cities could actually let people excerise their second amendment rights. Gangbangers, neo-nazi’s and other thugs thrive when ways to defend themselves are handcuffed by the state. ”

    Well, if you find yourself back in 1989, I’m sure you can pull your massive peni — sorry, gun — and take out the drive-by bad guys before they shoot anyone.

    But as long as you’re in 2013, why don’t you just keep hiding under your bed along with the other cowards who can’t feel like a man unless they have the technology to murder at least 30 people at a time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  30. wr says:

    @C. Clavin: “It’s not actually JKB’s fault. It’s just that he/she has been misled for years by the leaders of the cult.”

    Sorry, but it’s been 30 years. If he hasn’t wised up by now, it IS is fault.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  31. Tyrell says:

    I wonder how Judge Schienlin would rule on these incidents that go on around here: searching
    of student lockers, car trunks during license checks, bags when entering a theme park, outdoor storage sheds for a stolen mower (the local police just showed up and said they were searching everybody’s ), drink coolers at a car race.
    “Reasonable suspicion – if I have reasonable suspicion I can go anywhere I want” (Eastwood, “The
    Gauntlet”)
    “Open up that cooler, boy. Let’s have a look”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  32. @wr:

    Wow what a compelling argument..oh wait its not its just a compiling of insults. Typical liberal

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  33. C. Clavin says:

    Speaking of 2nd Amendment Rights…
    It’s really only a matter of time before the gun cult kills itself off…Darwin being Darwin and all…
    http://www.lancastereaglegazette.com/article/20130812/NEWS01/308120008?nclick_check=1

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  34. bill says:

    @Tyrell: well in NYC upwards of 95% of all crime is committed by minorities, luckily the NYPD is majority minority….if that makes sense. so is it still discriminatory to profile?! anyhow, it worked. i see more arrests made vs. just “frisks” to deal with this. of course the judge in this case lives in a very nice, low crime area as usual.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  35. Tyrell says:

    @anjin-san: Maybe so, but I can also find plenty of those kinds of criminal activities in other ethnic areas, including white.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. C. Clavin says:

    @ bill…

    “…anyhow, it worked…”

    I don’t think you understand the meaning of that phrase. In 88% of the cases there was no arrest…that’s damn close to a 90% failure rate. So in your opinion this tiny success rate is evidence that this “worked”???? WTF.
    And this incredible 12% success rate is worth abridging the rights of entire minority groups?
    What do you have against the 4th and 14th Amendments? Why do you hate America so much?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  37. C. Clavin says:

    I can only imagine what line of work Bill is in…where a 12% success rate is considered acceptable.
    I mean…even in Baseball you have to hit .300 to be considered good.
    Maybe he is a Weatherman???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. Caj says:

    Stop and frisk is fine if done to ALL citizens! The bias is so obvious that even a blind man could see that blacks and Hispanics are the main targets. That is wrong on so many levels. Mike Bloomberg is wrong and the judge is absolutely right on this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  39. @Caj:

    No Stop and Frisk is NOT fine, its a clear violation of the 4th amendment. If you support stop and frisk then you can’t be against domestic spying, the drug war, gun control, the Patriot Act because they all use the same “logic” to justify it.

    I should be shocked that so many have no problems with scrapping the 4th amendment but Im not

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  40. Rafer Janders says:

    @Tyrell:

    The police should focus on the areas with the highest crime rates.

    More great insights from Captain Obvious.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  41. anjin-san says:

    @ Tyrell

    Maybe so, but I can also find plenty of those kinds of criminal activities in other ethnic areas, including white.

    I don’t think you understand the point I was making. Programs such as “stop and frisk” are basically organized harassment of minorities, done under cloak of authority. It’s packaged as crime fighting, but millions of very respectable black and brown Americans who have been harassed by law enforcement for no good reason can attest that it is something else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. Ben says:

    @Caj:

    If racial profiling is the only problem you have with stop and frisk, then that really really worries me. I don’t want to live in a country where people are ok with being randomly pulled aside by police, searched, patted down and questioned for no reason. That is like a dystopian nightmare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  43. An Interested Party says:

    …anyhow, it worked.

    Unless, of course, you were one of the young black and/or Hispanic men who were stopped and frisked…but that wouldn’t apply to Bill, now would it? No wonder he has no problem with the program…just remember, some of his best friends are black…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. bill says:

    @C. Clavin: well, consider that most of the crime is black on black up there….seems beneficial to an extent. but i don’t have to live there so who really cares? you just can’t call it “racist” if the cops, perps and victims are mainly minority. well, you could…..you rarely surprise anyone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. Moderate Mom says:

    @Ben: Seems to happen in every airport, every day, to every person catching a flight. Why no mention of that particular degradation?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  46. Ben says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    You need to keep those assumptions holstered. I am and always have been vehemently against the TSA rape downs and the nudie scanners.

    However, the difference is that you can avoid that particular degradation by not flying. There is no way to avoid stop and frisk, other than never leaving your house.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  47. bill says:

    @Ben: or maybe not leaving your house while “armed”!? remember, “stop & frisk” benefited minorities more than anyone else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  48. Ben says:

    @bill:

    Extremely few of the people that were stopped and frisked were actually armed. Most of them had been doing nothing wrong at all, and were just minding their own business.

    Funny how most of the minority communities that have spoken publicly about the program disagree with you about whether they consider it a benefit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0