Judge Rules NYPD Stop and Frisk Policy Unconstitutional

We’ve written previously about the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk policy (Have You Been Subjected to a “Stop and Frisk” in New York?). Well, after a two-month non-jury trial in United States District Court in Manhattan, Judge Shira Scheindlin has ruled the practice unconstitutional, specifically a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Witnesses who testified during the trial included about a dozen black and biracial individuals, as well as statistical experts, as well as police officers and commanders. Here are some of the highlights of the ruling:

  • The NYPD policy amounted to indirect racial profiling by singling out racially-defined groups, based upon data involving local crimes.
  • The city’s “highest officials” have ignored the evidence of racial discrimination.
  • While stop and frisk practices are not per se illegal, Judge Scheindlin stated that the purpose of the ruling is to insure that they are carried out in a manner that is protective of the rights of New Yorkers.
  • The judge noted the “human toll” related to unconstitutional stops, including the fact that the experiences were humiliating and demeaning for many of those targeted.
  • She stated that even though police witnesses testified that they only made stops when people were acting suspiciously, the New York police officers were too quick to deem behavior suspicious, when in fact it was perfectly innocent. In that way, she concluded, the legal standard for a stop (reasonable suspicion of criminal activity) became watered down, and blacks were targeted for stops based upon a lower degree of objectivity than whites.
  • Finally, the judge noted the fact that 88% of the stops resulted in the person being released without an arrest or even a ticket, thereby suggesting that there was not credible suspicion for the stops in the first place.

The remedy for the abuses, Judge Scheindlin ruled, includes the appointment of a former prosecutor to monitor the NYPD’s compliance with Constitutional mandates.

Just hours after the decision was released, Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference in which he vigorously defended the “Stop, Question, Frisk” policy. In so doing, the Mayor noted that the policy has resulted in taking 8,000 guns off the street. He also appeared outraged that the judge has effectively placed the NYPD in what he termed to be “receivership.” Finally, Mayor Bloomberg suggested that the NYPD did not receive a fair trial, and indicated that the decision will be appealed.

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