Since 1991, the NYPD has gotten permission from landlords to patrol the hallways of NYC apartment buildings in high-crime areas, as part of a crime-fighting tactic now called Operation Clean Halls. In some Clean Halls buildings, cops conduct floor-by-floor sweeps, called "vertical patrols," engaging in what critics call an overly aggressive enforcement strategy. Now the NYCLU and other groups have filed a class action lawsuit against the city to get the NYPD to stop the program, alleging that Clean Halls violates the rights of residents of those buildings and their guests, who are mainly black and Latino New Yorkers.

"Operation Clean Halls has placed hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, mostly black and Latino, under siege in their own homes,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement yesterday. “For residents of Clean Halls buildings, taking the garbage out or checking the mail can result in being thrown against the wall and humiliated by police. Untold numbers of people have been wrongly arrested for trespassing because they had the audacity to leave their apartments without IDs or visit friends and family who live in Clean Halls buildings."

Asked about the lawsuit yesterday, Ray Kelly told reporters, “I will suspect that, probably, the attorneys involved in this case live in buildings with doormen, and they have a level of safety that people who live in tenements, which is most of what these buildings are, don’t have. That is the service that is being provided."

At a press conference Wednesday, Bronx resident Fawn Gracy told reporters, "I can't count the number of times I've watched police throw my son and his friends up against the wall and I have to run downstairs and just keep running and running, stopping them from harassing these kids who are just sitting in their own courtyard where they live at." Other victims of the program say that police used Clean Halls as an excuse to arrest them for trespassing even when they were simply visiting friends.

The NYCLU is calling for an injunction against the program until, among other things, the NYPD implements citywide standards for enrollment of buildings in Operation Clean Halls. Because as it stands now, the NYPD "has no meaningful standards concerning which buildings are eligible for the program," according to the NYCLU, nor is there "centralized oversight of how the program is enforced, nor is there a single roster of all the buildings enrolled in the program citywide."