Today a federal judge ruled that the NYPD has repeatedly violated the rights of those stopped outside housing buildings in the Bronx, and ordered the department to change their stop-and-frisk training program to prevent systematic, unlawful stops of innocent New Yorkers for trespassing. Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote [PDF], “The evidence of numerous unlawful stops at the hearing strengthens the conclusion that the NYPD’s inaccurate training has taught officers the following lesson: stop and question first, develop suspicions later."

The case focused on the department's Open Halls program in the Bronx, where plaintiffs, represented by the NYCLU and other civil liberties groups, testified of being harassed and detained while they were taking out the garbage or visiting their fiancees. Those buildings are part of the Trespass Affidavit Program, which allows police to patrol inside or around the premises, and has caused tensions between the Bronx DA's office and the NYPD for the glut of dubious trespassing arrests it has caused.

Judge Scheindlin ordered that the NYPD "immediately cease performing trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx without reasonable suspicion of trespass," and adds a footnote clearly stating that her order is more than a "simple command that the defendant obey the law," which is what the department had been arguing all along.

"The judge is saying that argument is plainly false, and found that the NYPD has consistently violated the law," NYCLU attorney Alexis Karteron said. "I couldn't tell you what that means for their day-to-day operations."

An email to NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, Paul Browne, has not been returned.

The judge's preliminary injunction notes that "city policymakers should have known that their inadequate training and supervision regarding trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx was 'so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights,’ that their failure to train constituted deliberate indifference."

Indeed, while the NYPD's stop-and-frisk training (which we witnessed) features a scenario inside a TAP building, there is no scenario-based training for officers outside a TAP building, which is where many of these illegal stops take place. Indeed, the department only refers to it in a single bullet point of a single PowerPoint stop-and-frisk training presentation, a fact not lost on Judge Scheindlin:

The NYPD has failed to take meaningful action to address the specific and narrow problem at issue in this case: the problem of unconstitutional trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx. To date, as noted above, the only piece of instruction that has been provided to officers on a systematic basis and that specifically targets the problem at issue in this case is a single bullet point in a single slide show during a single part of the Rodman’s Neck training. (Emphasis hers.)

Here is the NYPD's training scenario that is supposed to mimic a stop encountered on a vertical patrol of a TAP building.

NYPD Stop & Frisk Demo #2 from Gothamist on Vimeo.


The NYPD and the plaintiffs are due back in court for a conference in March, when the NYCLU as well as the department will propose changes to stop-and-frisk training. In a statement, NYCLU Legal Director Christopher Dunn said, “If New York City has any sense, it will use this ruling as an opportunity to start a wholesale reform of stop and frisk."