In an interim order issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, the New York Police Department is required to immediately halt its controversial “stop and frisk” policy unless officers have a specific cause to initiate a search.
“While it may be difficult to say when precisely to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside buildings,” the judge wrote.
Critics of the policy, who’ve long been vocal about wanting to see “stop and frisk” ended, say it has caused vastly more searches of racial minorities, even though statistics do not support the theory that they pose more of a threat to public safety.
In a ruling in mid-2012 that approved a class action lawsuit over the policy, Judge Scheindlin observed as much, writing (PDF) that out of 2.8 million “stop and frisk” searches from 2004 through 2009, “over fifty percent of those stops were of Black people and thirty percent were of Latinos, while only ten percent were of Whites.”
In her ruling Tuesday, the judge was even more resolute. “For those of us who do not fear being stopped as we approach or leave our own homes or those of our friends and families, it is difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat,” she wrote. “In light of the evidence presented at the hearing, however, I am compelled to conclude that this is the case.”
Her order does not require the department to rewrite its policy, only that officers establish reasonable suspicion before initiating a search. Further rulings on two related lawsuits are expected in the coming weeks.
“With today’s ruling, the federal court has stated loudly and clearly that a major part of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program is unconstitutional and that the time has come for the courts to order a halt to illegal stops,” New York Civil Liberties Union Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn told CBS New York. “If New York City has any sense, it will use this ruling as an opportunity to start a wholesale reform of stop and frisk.”
Allowing officers to “stop and frisk” people they think may be engaged in illegal activity has been the city’s policy since 1964.
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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