Is Stop and Frisk Unconstitutional?

The New York City police department was found guilty of racial discrimination.

NYPD
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A New York City judge Monday found the city's "stop and frisk" policy to be unconstitutional for unfairly targeting minorities. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ordered implementation of several measures aimed at stopping the prejudiced policy.

The New York City Police Department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have long maintained that stop and frisk has led to important reductions in crime across the city, but Scheindlin found that the policy amounted to "indirect racial profiling." She said the argument that more stops – some 4.43 million between 2004 and mid-2012 – take place in diverse neighborhoods because they have higher instances of crime is not enough to justify the policy.

"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. "No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life."

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Blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to be the target of physical aggression from the police, despite the fact that whites were more likely to be found in possession of weapons or other contraband.

The Supreme Court found stop and frisk to be constitutional in specific situations, and Scheindlin said her ruling was not meant to end the practice, but that she found violations in the case brought against the city. The judge said stop and frisk violates both the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. To remedy these violations, she appointed a lawyer to oversee the city's compliance with the Constitution.

She also ordered a pilot program in five precincts across the city that will require police to wear cameras to record the stops, and a series of community meetings that will get public input on how to reform the policy to make it less discriminatory.

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In a press conference Monday in response to the decision, Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly expressed dismay that the judge found stop and frisk to be unconstitutional. The mayor said the city will continue to do everything it can to keep residents safe. 

"This is, for a city that has become so safe nobody could have imagined it … this is a very dangerous decision made by a judge that I think just does not understand how policing works and what is compliant with the U.S. constitution," Bloomberg said.

The city will appeal the decision, but was unclear what the timeline for that process would be. Bloomberg said there would be no change in tactics "overnight."

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