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Judge explains why New York's stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional

August 12, 2013 by NCC Staff


U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled on Monday that the New York City police department has violated the Constitution in how it implements a stop-and-frisk policy that targets certain groups of citizens.

NYPD car. Wikicommons user Julius Schorzman

In a 195-page opinion, Scheindlin said that she wasn’t banning stop-and-frisk searches,  but she was ordering safeguards put into place to protect citizens from potential racial profiling.

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

Scheindlin said she wanted "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."

Scheindlin said the plaintiffs in the case 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."

“Plaintiffs established the City’s liability for the NYPD’s violation of their Fourth Amendment rights under two theories,” said Scheindlin. “First, plaintiffs showed that senior officials in the City and at the NYPD were deliberately indifferent to officers conducting unconstitutional stops and frisks; and second, plaintiffs showed that practices resulting in unconstitutional stops and frisks were sufficiently widespread that they had the force of law,” she said.

Links to the ruling, in two parts: Part 1 | Part 2

In her opinion, Scheindlin  said New York City police officers often frisked young minority men for weapons or searched their pockets before letting them go, violating the Constitution's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The plaintiffs in Floyd v. City of New York claimed the New York police department, its supervisors, and its union pressured police officers to stop and frisk hundreds of thousands of people each year. They claimed 88 percent of the stops involved blacks and Hispanics, mostly men, and the stops were a form of racial profiling.

The city argued the policies were goals, and not quotas or racial profiling, and the policies made New York a much-safer city.

Scheindlin said the city was guilty of "indirect racial profiling" and that New York’s top officials "turned a blind eye" to the practice.

She also ordered an independent monitor to oversee New York’s compliance with the remedies she ordered in her decision.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was scheduled to hold a Monday afternoon news conference discuss the decision, which is widely seen as a repudiation of his policies for the past eight years.

Stop-and-frisk searches are legal, under certain circumstances, based on the Supreme Court’s 1968’s Terry v. Ohio decision.

“The NYPD maintains two different policies related to racial profiling in the practice of stop and frisk: a written policy that prohibits racial profiling and requires reasonable suspicion for a stop— and another, unwritten policy that encourages officers to focus their reasonable-suspicion-based stops on ‘the right people, the right time, the right location,’” Scheindlin said.

She linked targeting “the right people” to indirect racial profiling.

“The Equal Protection Clause does not permit race-based suspicion,” she said.

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