NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Use Violated Rights: Ruling

Judge rules practice unconstitutional following trial in which plaintiffs argued the NYPD had targeted black and Latino neighborhoods.

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By Dareh Gregorian

A federal judge declared the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional Monday and appointed a monitor to make reforms.

In a pair of much-anticipated rulings, Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlinsaid the Police Department had violated people's constitutional rights and that reforms were needed immediately — but she did not call for cops to jettison the practice.

“To be very clear, I am not ordering an end to the practice of stop and frisk," Scheindlin wrote.

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She appointed former city corporation counsel Peter Zimroth as a monitor to oversee the changes.

“Ensuring the people are not seized and searched by police on the streets of New York City without a legal basis is an important interest meriting judicial protection," she wrote.

The judge also ordered a one-year pilot program to outfit officers with body-worn cameras to record their actions.

She said she believes the cameras would “alleviate some of the mistrust that has developed between the police and the black and Hispanic communities," and that the video recordings “will be helpful to members of the NYPD who are wrongly accused of inappropriate behavior."

The cameras will be worn by officers in one precinct per borough — “specifically the precinct with the highest number of stops during 2012," the judge wrote.

At the end of the year, the monitor will work with cops and lawyers to determine "whether the benefits of the cameras outweigh their financial, administrative and other costs, and whether the program should be terminated or expanded," she said.

Scheindlin said her goal with reforms 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."

That means, among other things, "no person may be stopped because he matches a vague or generalized description — such as male black 18 to 24 — without further detail," the judge wrote.

The ruling came after a nine-week trial where lawyers for the plaintiffs contended the NYPD had "laid siege to black and Latino neighborhoods over the last eight years .. . making people of color afraid to leave their homes" by stopping them and patting them down.

They noted that while blacks and Latinos make up a little more than 50% of the city's population, they were the subject of 85% of the NYPD stops.

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The city contended the racial breakdown was in line with the descriptions of criminal suspects and not because of any sort of bias.

The city also disputed plaintiffs' allegations that the stops — more than 500,000 in 2012 alone — were driven by cops’ quotas.

In the end, Scheindlin, as had widely been expected, sided with the plaintiffs, finding that they had "suffered violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and that the prevalence of the practices leading to those violations creates a likelihood of future injury."

She also brushed aside NYPD concerns that reforms will make the city a more dangerous place.

"This opinion does not call for the NYPD to abandon proactive policing and return to an earlier era of less effective police practices," she said. It "requires the NYPD to be even more proactive: proactive not only about crime control and prevention, but also about protecting the constitutional rights of the people the NYPD serves."

She also rejected the city's stance that a monitor would step on the toes of oversight mechanisms already in place, such as the Internal Affairs Bureau and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

She said the monitor "will have a distinct function," and be narrowly focused on the city's compliance with reforming the NYPD's use of stop and frisk - although this will "inevitably touch on issues of training, supervision, monitoring and discipline."

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Scheindlin said the monitor's initial responsibility will be to develop reforms in every aspect of stop and frisk "as soon as practicable" and after consultation with plaintiffs' lawyers and the NYPD. Scheindlin said any changes would have to be ordered by her.