A Manhattan federal judge Tuesday ordered the NYPD to stop what she called the unconstitutional practice of stopping people for trespass outside private Bronx apartment buildings.
Judge Shira Scheindlin, who is hearing this and two other cases on the NYPD's controversial stop and frisk policy, ruled the department had been indifferent to evidence of the unlawfulness in the way the Trespass Affidavit Program, or TAP, was being administered.
Scheindlin's narrowly tailored ruling could have broader implications on the bigger lawsuit pressing to end the stop and frisk policy, which the judge will hear in March, observers said. It also has become an issue in the upcoming mayoral race.
Stop and frisk allows officers to search people who they think have weapons or drugs but no proof. Civil libertarians oppose it. But NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg credit it with lowering the homicide and crime rates.
The judge criticized the NYPD's training of officers, saying a recent training video misstated the law on the department's stop and frisk policy. Sheindlin proposed the NYPD tighten up its supervision and revise its training materials, but stopped short of ordering it.
"While it may be difficult to say where, 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 [TAP] buildings in the Bronx," Scheindlin said.
Under the trespass program, also known as Clean Halls, owners of buildings in the Bronx allow police officers to patrol in and around private apartment dwellings. A number of black and Hispanic residents sued last year, saying officers made stops outside those buildings for trespass without "reasonable suspicion" of any wrongdoing.
Donna Lieberman, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, hailed Scheindlin's 154-page decision as a "milestone" in the broader battle over the stop and frisk policy, which she maintains targets blacks and Hispanics.
"It is certainly a milestone because it rejects the police department's rationale and stubborn insistence it has right to stop people for being in a high-crime neighborhood and in a TAP building without reasonable suspicion," Lieberman said.
But Kelly said Scheindlin's ruling "unnecessarily interferes with the department's efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep Clean Halls buildings safe and secure." Police noted three Bronx trespass cases in the past 60 days in which illegal guns were found.
City attorneys said the decision put an "unacceptable" burden on the police and suggested it might be appealed. Scheindlin barred the NYPD from making Bronx trespass stops unless there was evidence of reasonable suspicion, something the judge said the police had often ignored. She also cast doubt on continued police rationale of "furtive movements" to justify stops.
Part of the evidence used by Scheindlin to justify the injunction was the testimony of Bronx Assistant District Attorney Jeannette Rucker, who had concluded police frequently made trespass stops in the Bronx for no reasons other than the "officer had seen someone enter and exit or exit the building," the judge said.
Stop and frisk is a hot-button issue in the city and promises to become a factor in the upcoming mayoral campaign. Tuesday, Comptroller John Liu, a possible mayoral contender, hailed Scheindlin's ruling.
With John Riley