Dear Commons Community,
A federal judge ruled on Monday that the stop-and-frisk policy of the New York City Police Department violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city, repudiating a major element in the Bloomberg administration’s crime-fighting legacy. The use of police stops has been widely cited by city officials as a linchpin of New York’s success story in seeing murders and major crimes fall to historic lows. The police say the practice has saved the lives of thousands of young black and Hispanic men by removing thousands of guns from the streets.
As reported by the New York Times:
“…the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, found that the Police Department resorted to a “policy of indirect racial profiling” as it increased the number of stops in minority communities. That has led to officers’ routinely stopping “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.”
The judge called for a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms, including the use of body-worn cameras for some patrol officers, though she was “not ordering an end to the practice of stop-and-frisk.”
In her 195-page decision, Judge Scheindlin concluded that the stops, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, as well as the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg angrily accused the judge of deliberately denying the city “a fair trial” and said the city would file an appeal.
Striking a defiant tone, Mr. Bloomberg said, “You’re not going to see any change in tactics overnight.” He said he hoped the appeal process would allow the current stop-and-frisk practices to continue through the end of his administration because “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying.”
The judge found that for much of the last decade, patrol officers had stopped innocent people without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. But her criticism went beyond the conduct of police officers.
“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, citing statements that Mr. Bloomberg and the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, have made in defending the policy…
About 83 percent of the stops between 2004 and 2012 involved blacks and Hispanics, even though those two demographics make up just slightly more than 50 percent of the city’s residents. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly have explained that disparity by saying it mirrored the disproportionate percentage of crimes committed by young minority men. But Judge Scheindlin dismissed the Police Department’s rationale.
“This might be a valid comparison if the people stopped were criminals,” she wrote, explaining that there was significant evidence that the people being stopped were not criminals. “To the contrary, nearly 90 percent of the people stopped are released without the officer finding any basis for a summons or arrest.”
While no one doubts its effectiveness in helping to reduce crime, “stop and frisk” was long overdue for a review. The judge made the right decision here.