Judge Halts NYPD ‘Stop & Frisk’ in the Bronx

Posted January 14, 2013 in Crime Your Personal Rights by

The NYACLU's Stop-and-Frisk Watch iPhone ap

In this July 18, 2012 photo, Santy Zambrano, 21, youth organizer with the community organization Make the Road, reviews a phone app for monitoring police action, in New York. The app, called "Stop and Frisk Watch," was developed by the New York Civil Liberties Union for bystanders to monitor police during “stop and frisk” activity, a practice widely denounced by civil rights groups. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

A federal judge on Jan. 8 put a temporary halt to the New York City Police Department’s controversial “stop and frisk” program as it applies to visitors and residents of a group of residential buildings in the Bronx.

The buildings, which are privately owned, had been part of the Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP), in which property managers ask for increased police patrols to arrest trespassers.

A plaintiff in the lawsuit, Ligon v. City of New York, is the mother of a teenage boy who went out to buy ketchup for dinner and was stopped and frisked by the police on his way back to his building; they let him go when his mom came down and identified him. 

 

Unconstitutional Stops

According to the visitors and residents who filed the lawsuit against the city over the practice, police were untrained and routinely violated their constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Federal District Court in Manhattan agreed, saying police officers were stopping people in front of the buildings even though the police lacked “reasonable suspicion” that they were trespassing. 

That violates the Fourth Amendment, Judge Scheindlin said, because police must be able to articulate “facts” that cause them to think someone is committing or about to commit a crime, in order to stop that person.

“What is reasonable can vary, but there must be articulable facts,” adds Professor Ruthann Robson of the CUNY School of Law. “In other words, it cannot merely be that a police officer saw someone and had a ‘hunch’ or even decided that everyone in the area should be ‘checked out.’”  

 

Black Is Not a Fact

The NYPD’s stop and frisk program has come under public scrutiny for racial profiling and has even been the subject of a First Amendment lawsuit. The New York Civil Liberties Union in particular is opposed to it.

“The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino,” says the NYCLU on its website.

Nine Latino and black residents and guests testified at a hearing back in October in the Ligon lawsuit, according to the New York Times. It was the first time the judge heard testimony about the program, which is the subject of two other lawsuits in her court.

“There must be something other than racial or ethnic profiling” for the police to stop someone under the Fourth Amendment, says Robson. A person being black, for instance, is not an acceptable “fact” that can support reasonable suspicion that a crime is about to occur.

The Fourth Amendment should also prohibit “geographic profiling,” she adds. “That a person is in a high crime area or outside or in a particular building should not be accepted as the only fact that gives rise to reasonable suspicion; there must be additional facts.”

Judge Scheindlin will next consider possible remedies for the problem, including requiring the NYPD to create a formal policy for TAP stops and revising its training materials, which the judge said were inaccurate.

 

‘People Will Die’ 

Meanwhile, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly warned that doing away with the stop and frisk program will lead to more crime. He reportedly said “people would die” if the NYPD’s efforts at fighting crime in this way were dismantled.

Kelly said support for stop-and-frisk should be a “litmus test” for anyone seeking the mayoral office, which Michael Bloomberg will vacate at the end of this year. Bloomberg, whose administration instituted the program, has seen the lowest murder rate in the city’s history.

“If somehow it’s eliminated, people are going to suffer,” Kelly said of the stop and frisk program. More than 500,000 people, mostly young black and Latino men, were stopped and questioned under it in 2012. 

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