New York Judge Orders Police Stop-and-Frisk Monitor

New York City will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that its police unlawfully subject black and Hispanic citizens to stop-and-frisk practices based on their race, the city’s top lawyer said.

Michael Cardozo, head of the city’s law department, said New York rejects the ruling issued today by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin finding the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of minority residents. Scheindlin, who oversaw a nine-week non-jury trial on the issue that ended May 20, appointed a monitor to oversee reforms to the program.

“Throughout the case, we didn’t believe that we were getting a fair trial,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during a news conference at City Hall with Cardozo and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. “This decision confirms that suspicion, and we will be presenting evidence of that unfairness to the appeals court.”

Bloomberg said Scheindlin had “ignored the real-world realities of crime, the fact that stops match up with crime statistics, and the fact that our police officers on patrol -- the majority of whom are black, Hispanic, or members of other ethnic or racial minorities -- make an average about less than one stop a week.”

The lawsuit leading to today’s ruling was filed by four black men in New York who claimed they were stopped and questioned or frisked by police without reasonable suspicion in violation of their constitutional rights. Police have engaged in more than 4 million stop-and-frisks in the past nine years, the men alleged. At least 80 percent the people stopped were black or Latino, according to court papers.

‘Fundamentally Inconsistent’

The city and NYPD’s endorsement of the practice “is fundamentally inconsistent with the law of equal protection and represents a particularly disconcerting manifestation of indifference,” Scheindlin wrote in her opinion, describing each stop as a “demeaning and humiliating experience.”

She stopped short of imposing a wholesale end to the practice, instead ordering that Peter L. Zimroth, a professor at New York University School of Law and former corporation counsel for the city, oversee changes and track the city’s progress.

Most of the Democratic candidates seeking to replace Bloomberg as mayor next year applauded the decision, while the three Republicans vying for their party’s nomination attacked it. The mayor, a political independent, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP. He is barred by law from seeking a fourth term.

Fewer Murders

Bloomberg said “stop-question-frisk” had taken 8,000 guns off the streets over the past decade, helping drive down murders in New York to an average of one a day from six daily in 1990, and accounting in part of a 50 percent drop in homicides since he took office 12 years ago.

“There is just no question that stop-question-frisk has saved countless lives,” Bloomberg said. “And we know that most of the lives saved, based on the statistics, have been black and Hispanic young men.”

Kelly said 97 percent of shooting victims were black or Hispanic and most live in low-income neighborhoods.

“There were more stops with suspicious activity in neighborhoods with higher crime because that’s where the crime is,” Kelly said.

In the case before Scheindlin, lead plaintiff David Floyd and the others accused the police department of failing to properly train officers and of imposing a quota system that encourages illegal stops.

Weapons’ Search

Police are generally barred by law from stopping, questioning or frisking -- the act of patting a person down in a search for weapons or other contraband -- someone in the street without some level of reasonable, individualized suspicion. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police must have such suspicion of crime to justify a stop.

As court-appointed monitor, Zimroth will be responsible for developing changes, informing the city of milestones it must achieve, conducting regular progress reviews and issuing public reports every six months detailing the police department’s compliance.

The city will be responsible for paying for the monitor, Scheindlin said.

As part of necessary changes, police should address misleading and overbroad training materials, such as those indicating officers should stop individuals displaying “furtive behavior,” Scheindlin said. Officers should be given instruction on the constitutional standards for a frisk and understand clearly that race may not be the motivation or justification for a stop, she said.

Sharpton Praise

The Reverend Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, called Scheindlin’s ruling “a huge victory for those of us that have marched and fought” for years, contending the stop-and-frisk program was a violation of constitutional and civil rights.

In June, the city council voted 40-11 to create an inspector general empowered to review police policies and practices, and 34-17 to allow lawsuits against the city when an officer uses racial profiling as a reason to question a person. The mayor vetoed both measures. Supporters will need 34 votes in the 51-member council to override the veto at a meeting scheduled for Aug. 22.

The monitor’s role will be distinct from that of the inspector general envisioned by the council, Scheindlin said in her ruling.

Cardozo said today that the city will ask to delay the ruling during the appeal.

“Crime can come back any time the criminals think they can get away with this,” Bloomberg said. “We can’t let that happen.”

The case is Floyd v. City of New York, 08-cv-01034, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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