The NYPD has known for two decades that its officers were misusing trespass laws to make innocent citizens the targets of illegal stop-and-frisk practices and has done nothing to stop it, a civil liberties lawyer said Wednesday in closing arguments on a federal lawsuit over the controversial police tactic.
"It's been the embodiment of deliberate indifference," lawyer Christopher Dunn told Manhattan U.S. District Judge Schira Scheindlen. "They had a program in place for 20 years with no training, no monitoring, and no supervision."
The lawsuit alleges that police falsely claim that they suspect people of trespass as an excuse to roust them outside private apartment buildings in the Bronx that have signed up for NYPD patrols under the so-called "Clean Halls" program and have conducted hundreds of illegal stops.
It is one of three federal suits over stop-and-frisk tactics, which police say are critical to enforcing gun and drug laws. Scheindlen has also certified a class action in a citywide challenge to the practice, and is hearing a lawsuit over the misuse of trespass laws in public housing.
Dunn told the judge that police incorrectly believe the "Clean Halls" program authorizes them to stop whomever they want near buildings that have signed up.
He urged her to order the NYPD to tighten its policies, improve training, and conduct a precinct level "critique" of every stop with officers.
"If every single stop requires a sit-down with a supervisor, would you have any time to do any policing in this town?" Scheindlen wondered. "It sounds time-consuming."
During six days of hearings in October, nine plaintiffs testified about trespassing stops or arrests that they said were unjustified, and an expert testified that police paperwork suggested that 60 percent of the trespass stops were illegal.
City lawyers told Scheindlen that the plaintiffs' stories weren't credible, the statistics were inflated, and the NYPD had already taken steps to correct abuses on its own.
"It is clear there is no evidence of a systemwide practice of unlawful stops," said city lawyer Brenda Cooke.