Fed. Judge Sets Limits on Stop and Frisk

A federal judge has declared that the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk program is unconstitutional under the 4th and 14th Amendments, but stopped short of shutting the whole thing down. The overwhelming evidence of racial bias and the fact that they rarely find anyone they stopped doing anything wrong was what convinced the judge.

“The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote in her ruling. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory.”

Stop-and-frisk has been around for decades in some form, but recorded stops increased dramatically under the Bloomberg administration to an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330, mostly of black and Hispanic men. The lawsuit was filed in 2004 by four men, all minorities, and became a class-action case.

About half the people who are stopped are subject only to questioning. Others have their bag or backpack searched, and sometimes police conduct a full pat-down. Only 10 percent of all stops result in arrest, and a weapon is recovered a small fraction of the time…

In her long ruling, she determined at least 200,000 stops were made without reasonable suspicion, the necessary legal benchmark, lower than the standard of probable cause needed to justify an arrest. She said that rank-and-file officers were pressured by superiors to make stops — and that high-ranking police officials ignored mounting evidence that bad stops were being made.

“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,” she wrote. “But this reasoning is flawed because the stopped population is overwhelmingly innocent — not criminal.”

She also cited violations of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

“Far too many people in New York City have been deprived of this basic freedom far too often,” she said. “The NYPD’s practice of making stops that lack individualized reasonable suspicion has been so pervasive and persistent as to become not only a part of the NYPD’s standard operating procedure, but a fact of daily life in some New York City neighborhoods.”

When 90% of the people you stop are found to be doing nothing wrong, you obviously cannot claim that you had “reasonable suspicion” to stop and frisk them — forget about probable cause, which is what is required by the 4th Amendment. The judge appointed a monitor to oversee the system and develop reforms to bring the program in line with the Constitution. That’s a pretty crappy solution. It should have been stopped completely until the NYPD can show that it could be done without these problems.

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  • Mr Ed

    Just like when they said supermax prisons had a racial bias instead of addressing the bias they added non hispanic whites to make the numerical bais go way. Here they can just frisk more whites, smile and claim no bias. We need better policing instead of the blunt assume guilt until shown otherwise.

  • thascius

    @1-frisking more whites might not be a bad idea. As I recall the white people stopped in “stop and frisk” were more likely to be carrying weapons than the non-whites who were stopped and more likely to be arrested or cited than the non-whites. So obviously, the answer to crime is go after the white people. (or more likely, the police were less likely to stop white people “just because” and more likely to go after the ones who really were doing something suspcicious)

  • David C Brayton

    The standard for a ‘stop and frisk’ is reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot and that the suspect is armed. The standard is not probable cause. See Terry v. Ohio. Are you arguing that Terry was wrongly decided?

    Stop and frisks under the Terry standard are a necessary part of policing. So, completely stopping stop and frisks is not possible. But, stopping the unconstitutional aspects of NYPD’s program, and there are many, is necessary.

    Requiring officers to wear video recorders is great but it needs to apply to 100% of officers, not just a few.

  • greg1466

    The Daily Show did a wonderful bit on this story last night.

  • Freeman

    Greg #4 beat me to it. Here’s the link. Great stuff! My favorite line: Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not find the ruling fair, and plans to fight it with an appeal. “Hold on,” said Oliver. “You think this program is being unfairly stopped and scrutinized even though it’s done nothing wrong. I think I know millions of blacks and Latinos in this city who know exactly how you feel.”

  • DaveL

    The standard for a ‘stop and frisk’ is reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot and that the suspect is armed. The standard is not probable cause. See Terry v. Ohio. Are you arguing that Terry was wrongly decided?

    I think he’s arguing that in many of these stops there never was reasonable suspicion. How can a suspicion that is wrong an overwhelming majority of the time be reasonable? I agree, and apparently so did the judge in this action.