NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - A federal judge has ordered the New York City Police Department to stop making trespass stops outside certain privately owned Bronx buildings without reasonable suspicion.
Manhattan Judge Shira Scheindlin made the ruling Tuesday as an interim order prior to a trial on a lawsuit filed against the city.
Scheindlin said it is not enough for a police officer to have a non-specific suspicion or hunch about a person to perform a stop-and-frisk. The plaintiffs have said the stops left them feeling violated, disrespected, angry and defenseless, she noted.
Scheindlin said the plaintiffs who presented evidence at a hearing over several days in October and November had shown a clear likelihood of proving that the city had displayed deliberate indifference toward a widespread practice of unconstitutional trespass stops by the police department outside the private Bronx buildings.
“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 the Bronx buildings, she said.
“For those of us who do not fear being stopped as we approach or leave our own homes or those of our friends and families, it is difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat,” she said. “In light of the evidence presented at the hearing, however, I am compelled to conclude that this is the case.”
The case is one of three lawsuits challenging the police department’s stop and frisk practices.
The case Scheindlin ruled on is the narrowest of the three. It deals with legal issues raised after the city first adopted a stop-and-frisk law in 1964.
“Today’s decision is a major step toward dismantling the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk regime,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Operation Clean Halls has placed New Yorkers, mostly black and Latino, under siege in their own homes in thousands of apartment buildings. This aggressive assault on people’s constitutional rights must be stopped.”
“With today’s ruling, the federal court has stated loudly and clearly that a major part of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program is unconstitutional and that the time has come for the courts to order a halt to illegal stops,” added NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn.
“If New York City has any sense, it will use this ruling as an opportunity to start a wholesale reform of stop and frisk.”
However, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly released a statement saying “Today’s decision unnecessarily interferes with the department’s efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep Clean Halls buildings safe and secure.” Kelly said the “Clean Halls” policy provided “a modicum of safety for less prosperous tenants.”
The Corporation Counsel of the New York City Law Department Michael Cardozo said “The decision proposes remedial steps that would place an unacceptable burden on the NYPD to adopt additional training, supervision, monitoring and reporting requirements,” adding “We believe that court testimony demonstrated the NYPD already has more than adequate safeguards in place to ensure that its patrols of Clean Halls buildings are lawful.”
Other local officials also weighed in with their thoughts on the decision.
“Police subjecting so many people to ‘stop and frisk,’ almost all of whom did nothing wrong, is unbecoming of the free and democratic society that New York City represents,” City Comptroller John Liu said. “On this basis alone, even without addressing the racial profiling nature of NYPD stop and frisk, the practice must be abolished. It’s time to restore trust between the community and police so that New York’s Finest can best keep our city safe, while maintaining the public’s interest in liberty and dignity.”
“Stop and frisk can be a useful law enforcement tool, but not when it alienates communities of color and is used in an unconstitutional manner,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said. “I urge the NYPD to review and reform its policies, and implement a system where supervisors are held accountable for the number of stop and frisk encounters in their precincts.”
Scheindlin said she was not ordering the abolition or even a reduction of the program that allows police to patrol the Bronx buildings because it appears to be a valuable way of using police resources to enhance security in private buildings.
She said further orders requiring the police department to rewrite its practices and supervision of stop and frisk will not have to be implemented until she conducts additional hearings in coming weeks.
The city did not immediately comment.
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