NYPD Practice of Stopping and Frisking Pedestrians Is Ruled Unconstitutional
The New York Police Department (NYPD) must stop randomly frisking people on sidewalks, according to a federal judge who ruled the practice unconstitutional.
At issue was NYPD’s policy of targeting pedestrians in areas of the Bronx that suffer from high crime rates. Officers would routinely stop and frisk people without cause outside of residential buildings participating in the city’s Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP). That program was instituted by property managers who request regular police patrols and arrests of trespassers. The stop-and-frisk practice prompted some New Yorkers to sue with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
After hearing the case, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin said the practice violated individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights protecting against unreasonable search and seizure.
“While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the N.Y.P.D. has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx,” Scheindlin ruled.
The judge said she found “striking similarities” in the accounts of the plaintiffs, whereby “the police suddenly materialize, stop the person, demand identification, and question the person about where he or she is coming from and what he or she is doing. Attempts at explanation are met with hostility; especially if the person is a young black man, he is frisked, which often involves an invasive search of his pockets; in some cases the officers then detain the person in a police van.”
Scheindlin added that the NYPD should do a better job of teaching its officers how to properly conduct searches. She said the department’s “inaccurate training has taught officers the following lesson: Stop and question first, develop reasonable suspicion later.”
An analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union revealed that New York citizens—primarily blacks and Latinos—have been subjected to police stops and interrogations more than 4 million times in the past decade, and that nearly nine out of 10 of those New Yorkers were proven to be innocent of any crime, according to the NYPD’s own reports.
In addition to this case (Ligon v. the City of New York - pdf), Scheindlin is presiding over two more stop-and-frisk lawsuits “that could fundamentally change New York City’s strategy for preventing street crimes,” wrote The New York Times.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
Police Stop-and-Frisk Program in Bronx Is Ruled Unconstitutional (by Joseph Goldstein, New York Times)
Stop-and-Frisk Campaign: About the Issue (New York Civil Liberties Union)
NYPD Stop, Question and Frisk Data Base (New York Police Department)
New York City Police Accused of Arrest Quotas and Doctoring Figures (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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