New York City police need to find a way to combat guns and crime without treading on the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of people to do it.
Indiscriminately stopping and frisking mostly black and Hispanic young men in the streets isn’t it, according to Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin. She ruled Tuesday that officers violated the constitutional rights of people they stopped outside private residential buildings in the Bronx in search of trespassers. It was the first federal court ruling that stop and frisk, as practiced in the Bloomberg administration, violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Scheindlin’s decison came in a lawsuit challenging the Trespass Affidavit Program, in which landlords give police permission to patrol their buildings. But it raised many of the same issues dogging the NYPD’s broader use of stop and frisks in search of illegal guns, a practice challenged in two other lawsuits Scheindlin is presiding over.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD brass should take this first decision as a sign and work with leaders in the communities they’ve targeted to develop a policy that is effective, constitutional and does not discriminate racially. Of 443,422 stops citywide in the first nine months of 2012, nine in ten of the people targeted were black or Hispanic.
The U.S. constitution’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure requires that police have a “reasonable suspicion” that the person they stop is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. But the evidence strengthens the conclusion that the NYPD has taught officers to “stop and question first, develop reasonable suspicion later,” Scheindlin said.
“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.”
City officials need to stop and think about stop and frisk.
Pictured above: The NYPD demonstrated training scenarios where they use, and did not use, stop-question-frisk. In this training scenario the police use stop-question-frisk because they received a verified 911 phone call that the suspect who stole her cell phone, in red shirt, was present at the location. (June 20, 2012)