Judge: NYC's "Stop-and-Frisk" Violates Rights

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 12 2013 11:02 AM

Federal Judge Rules NYC's "Stop-and-Frisk" Tactics Violate Constitutional Rights

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New York CIty Police officers watch over a demonstration against the city's 'stop and frisk' searches in lower Manhattan near Federal Court March 18, 2013 in New York City

Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images

In what is a major rebuke to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, a federal judge on Monday ruled that the city's highly controversial stop-and-frisk tactics violate both the Fourth and 14th amendments. The ruling won't bring an end to the policy itself, although it will mean increased scrutiny of how New York police put it into practice. Here's the New York Times with more on the ruling:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

In a decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision. ...
To fix the constitutional violations, Judge Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan said she intended to designate an outside lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor the Police Department’s compliance with the Constitution. The decision to install Mr. Zimroth, a partner in the New York office of Arnold & Porter, LLP, and a former corporation counsel and prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, will leave the department under a degree of judicial control that is certain to shape the policing strategies under the next mayor.
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The NYPD used the tactic more than 4 million times between 2004 and 2012, the vast majority of which targeted blacks and Hispanics. "The City’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner," the judge wrote. "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 and therefore violates the United States Constitution."

Bloomberg and Kelly have adamantly defended the policy in the face of growing complaints, arguing that the policy is based on a "rock-solid legal and constitutional foundation" and that, perhaps more importantly in their eyes, the tactics played a major role in curbing crime in New York City. In her ruling, Scheindlin made it clear that the latter had no relevance as far as she was concerned. "Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime — preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example," she wrote, "but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective."

Correction, Monday, August 12: An earlier version of this post ran under an incorrect headline that wrongly suggested that the judge ruled that the city's "stop-and-frisk" policy unconstitutional. The judge ruled that the tactics used by the NYPD violate New Yorkers' constitutional rights, but did not order an end to the program.

This post has been updated for clarity.