Following a nine-week trial, a federal judge has ruled that the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional. In a two-part, 234-page decision [PDF], Judge Shira Scheindlin explains that the policy violates New Yorkers' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. "The City acted with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD’s practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks," Judge Scheindlin writes. "In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting 'the right people' is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution."
In her opinion, Judge Scheindlin directly confronts the argument frequently made by Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly that the millions of police stops were rightfully targeted towards communities of color, and scolds "one NYPD official" who suggested that the practice could be used to "instill fear" in minorities.
Yet the judge also acknowledges that she is "in a far different position than officers on the street who must make split-second decisions in situations that may pose a danger to themselves or others. I respect that police officers have chosen a profession of public service involving dangers and challenges with few parallels in civilian life."
Judge Scheindlin's remedies in the case include a trial run of "body cameras" worn by NYPD officers, an "immediate change" to certain NYPD practices, and the appointment of an independent NYPD monitor, which Commissioner Kelly has called "one of the biggest scams in law enforcement." Judge Scheindlin states that her ruling is designed to be as narrow as possible, and that she is not explicitly ending the practice.
The monitor Judge Scheindlin names is Peter Zimroth, who previously served at the Manhattan DA's office and as New York City's Corporation Counsel. Zimroth will specifically ensure that the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisks complies with Judge Scheindlin's ruling.
The Mayor's Office has yet to respond to a request for comment, while we're told that the Law Department's statement will be in shortly. We're still pouring over the opinion, but for now here's Judge Scheindlin's preemptive rebuttal to their concerns that her decision might make the city dangerous.
Some may worry about the implications of this decision. They may wonder: if the police believe that a particular group of people is disproportionately responsible for crime in one area, why should the police not target that group with increased stops? Why should it matter if the group is defined in part by race?
Indeed, there are contexts in which the Constitution permits considerations of race in law enforcement operations. What is clear, however, is that the Equal Protection Clause prohibits the practices described in this case. A police department may not target a racially defined group for stops in general—that is, for stops based on suspicions of general criminal wrongdoing—simply because members of that group appear frequently in the police department’s suspect data.