Critics of the New York City Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” policy can celebrate a small victory this morning.
A federal judge has declared part of the tactic unconstitutional:
The decision, the first federal ruling to find that the practice under the Bloomberg administration violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, focused on police stops conducted in front of several thousand private residential buildings in the Bronx enrolled in the Trespass Affidavit Program. Property managers in that program have asked the police to patrol their buildings and to arrest trespassers.
But the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said officers were routinely stopping people outside the buildings without reasonable suspicion that they were trespassing.
“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,” Judge Scheindlin ruled.
Judge Scheindlin is presiding over three significant stop-and-frisk lawsuits that could fundamentally change New York City’s strategy for preventing street crimes. While the judge’s decision applies to only one of the lawsuits, Ligon v. the City of New York, the cases share some core constitutional issues.
In the decision released on Tuesday, the judge ordered the police “to cease performing trespass stops” outside the private buildings in the program unless officers have reasonable suspicion, a legal standard that requires officers to be acting on more than just a hunch.
The fact that a person was merely seen entering or leaving a building was not enough to permit the police to stop someone, “even if the building is located in a high-crime area, and regardless of the time of day,” the judge ruled. Nor was it enough for an officer to conduct a stop simply because the officer had observed the person move furtively, Judge Scheindlin said. (The forms that the police fill out after each street stop offer “furtive” movements as a basis for the stop.)
Read more at The NYT.
Despite evidence that only a small percentage of the blacks and Latinos the policy routinely harasses with “Stop and Frisk” are ever caught doing anything illegal, the NYPD, as expected, has criticized the ruling.
Here’s hoping that subsequent judgments compel a thorough dismantling of the policy.