Stop and Frisk found unconstitutional, communities vindicated

friskOn Monday, August 12, New Yorkers won a historic victory with a federal court ruling that the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) use of stop and frisk policing violated the constitution. Judge Shira Scheindlin found the tactic, as had been argued by the plaintiffs and their attorneys, the Center for Constitutional Rights, violated both the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

To remedy the violations of rights that the court found had affected thousands of New Yorkers between 2004 and 2012, the Judge mandated a number of court supervised changes. The order imposes important reforms on the NYPD related to stop and frisk. The court appointed an independent monitor to oversee the process of bringing the NYPD's tactics in line with the constitution, required trials of officer worn body cameras in each borough and mandated community input into the reform process. Police body worn cameras have shown excellent results reducing the use of force by police officers and complaints against them. In Rialto, California the use of cameras resulted in a 60% drop in the use of force by police officers.

However, to ensure better policing for all New Yorkers, it will still be crucial for the New York City Council to overturn the mayor's veto on the two bills championed by Communities United for Police Reform. These bills will greatly expand profiling protections to insure that New Yorkers are not targeted by police for their identity and establish an Inspector General for the NYPD. The council is scheduled to vote on the veto override on August 22.

It is clear that the diverse grassroots movement against biased policing informed the decision. Every day of the trial interested community members packed the courtroom and many stood in the streets and sidewalks around the courthouse or in front of City Hall. Judge Scheindlin noted:

The Supreme Court has recognized that “the degree of community resentment aroused by particular practices is clearly relevant to an assessment of the quality of the intrusion upon reasonable expectations of personal security.” In light of the very active and public debate on the issues addressed in this Opinion — and the passionate positions taken by both sides — it is important to recognize the human toll of unconstitutional stops.

The decision crucially recognized the true impact of stop and frisk on communities and individuals in New York:

While it is true that any one stop is a limited intrusion in duration and deprivation of liberty, each stop is also a demeaning and humiliating experience. No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life. Those who are routinely subjected to stops are overwhelmingly people of color, and they are justifiably troubled to be singled out when many of them have done nothing to attract the unwanted attention. Some plaintiffs testified that stops make them feel unwelcome in some parts of the City, and distrustful of the police. This alienation cannot be good for the police, the community, or its leaders. Fostering trust and confidence between the police and the community would be an improvement for everyone.

Mayor Bloomberg vowed to appeal the decision, making the continued push for community led legislative reform as important as ever.

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