Small Part of Stop and Frisk Policy Struck Down

One small piece of the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge. Unfortunately, it’s not the entire policy, only one small part of it — and one that, I’m sure, can be easily made up for by merely changing pretexts for the stops:

Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered police to refrain from making trespass stops outside private residential buildings — even though the landlord has given officers permission to do so as part of the NYPD’s “Clean Halls” program.

“While it may be difficult to say when precisely to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside buildings,” Scheindlin wrote in a 157-page ruling.

The New York Civil Liberties Union argued in an eight-day hearing in October that “Clean Halls,” which exists only in the Bronx, leads to people being hassled by cops and sometimes cuffed near their own abode for no legitimate reason.

You can read the full ruling here. The ruling is a preliminary injunction, so it is not the final disposition of the case, but it is rare for a court to issue a preliminary injunction and then rule in favor of the defendants (the NYPD, in this case). The court ruled that the plaintiff had a “clear likelihood of establishing that defendants’ longstanding failure to train officers regarding the legal standards for trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx, despite actual or constructive notice that this omission was causing city employees to violate individuals’ constitutional rights, has risen to the level of deliberate indifference.”

“TAP” stands for Trespass Affidavit Program, meaning any privately owned residential apartment building whose owners had agreed to participate in the Clean Halls Program, which allows “police officers to patrol inside and around thousands of private residential apartment buildings throughout New York City.” This program operated only in the Bronx. The ruling describes how this relates to the stop and frisk program, based on the testimony of a prosecutor who agreed that there were constitutional problems with it:

As described above, ADA Rucker credibly testified that NYPD officers have treated proximity to a TAP building as a factor contributing to reasonable suspicion, and have frequently made trespass stops outside TAP buildings for no reason other than that the officer had seen someone enter and exit or exit the building. These stops were made because the building was enrolled in TAP, and they were not based on any reasonable suspicion of trespass.

Unfortunately, this is only one small part of the larger Stop and Frisk program, all of which should be declared unconstitutional under the 4th Amendment. That amendment requires probable cause before stopping and performing a search of someone, not merely a “reasonable suspicion.” The courts have so broadened the meaning of “reasonable suspicion” that an officer can easily find a pretext to stop anyone they want and that is exactly what they have done, with the predictable result that black and Latino residents of NYC are routinely stopped and hassled while white residents are not, with a very low rate of finding someone actually breaking the law. The entire program should be struck down, sooner rather than later.

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