The judge in the stop-and-frisk decision also appointed an independent
monitor to ensure that the New York Police Department’s practices
would be in line with constitutional standards in the future.
By Harry Bruinius
In a blow to the administration of New York Mayor Michael
Bloomberg, a federal judge declared on Monday that the city’s
long-contentious police tactic known as “stop and frisk” violated the
constitutional rights of perhaps millions of citizens.
The judge, Shira Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan,
also appointed an independent monitor to ensure that the New York
Police Department’s practices would be in line with constitutional
standards in the future – the remedy preferred by the Obama
The decision represents two major setbacks to Mayor Bloomberg and
police commissioner Raymond Kelly, the most vigorous defenders of the
practice, in which officers flood high-crime neighborhoods and then
stop and sometimes frisk anyone they believe may be involved in
criminal activity. The mayor and Mr. Kelly had not only insisted the
tactic passed constitutional muster, but they also bitterly opposed
any kind of outside oversight of the city’s police.
Judge Scheindlin, appointed by President Clinton in 1994, found the
city’s practices did not meet the “reasonable suspicion” standard set
by the U.S. Supreme Court, which allows police to stop people if they
believe criminal activity “may be afoot.” This is a lower standard
than “probable cause,” the most well-known standard in the Fourth
Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
“They have received both actual and constructive notice since at least
1999 of widespread Fourth Amendment violations occurring as a result
of the NYPD’s stop and frisk practices,” the judge wrote in her
195-page ruling. “Despite this notice, they deliberately maintained
and even escalated policies and practices that predictably resulted in
even more widespread Fourth Amendment violations.”
The judge also found that the city was profiling racial minorities, in
violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
“The City and its highest officials believe that blacks and Hispanics
should be stopped at the same rate as their proportion of the local
criminal suspect population,” the judge wrote. “But this reasoning is
flawed because the stopped population is overwhelmingly innocent – not
About 85 percent of those stopped and frisked are black or Latino.
Among all people stopped, only 1 out of 10 stops results in an arrest
Bloomberg, who will leave office at the end of this year, has been
outspoken defending the controversial police tactic, often doing so
with an unusual amount of passion and scorn for its critics.
“[Even] with that incredible record in reducing crime, saving lives,
and making neighborhoods far safer – while at the same time reducing
incarceration and reducing police shootings – it’s hard to believe,
but the NYPD is under attack, probably because this is an election
year,” the mayor said in a speech at the end of April – the same day
NYPD officers were testifying before Scheindlin.
“The attacks most often come from those who play no constructive role
in keeping our city safe, but rather view their jobs as pointing
fingers from the steps of City Hall,” Bloomberg continued. “Some of
them scream that they know better than you how to run the department.”
Scheindlin said she will appoint Peter L. Zimroth, a partner in the
New York office of Arnold & Porter, to monitor the NYPD’s practices –
leaving the tensions of judicial oversight over the nation’s largest
police force to the newly elected mayor.