Federal Judge: New York’s “Stop and Frisk” Policy Unconstitutional

From the Wall Street Journal:

“A federal court judge ordered an independent monitor to oversee reforms to the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practice after ruling the polarizing practice violated the United States Constitution.

In a ruling released Monday morning, two months after hearing nine weeks of testimony in a class-action lawsuit challenging the policy, Manhattan federal court judge Shira Scheindlin found that ‘the city acted with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD’s practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks.'”

The ruling, which is almost 200 pages long, explains how and why stop-and-frisk violates the constitution. Firstly, the judge found that the policy was in direct conflict with the 4th amendment, which protects against unwarranted searches and seizures. Since this was a class action lawsuit, there were numerous specific incidences where the NYPD was found to have acted in an unconstitutional manner. In examining these incidents, the judge found that there was “deliberate indifference” towards these violations from the standpoint of the police department. Furthermore, the judge found that these violations were “sufficiently widespread that they had the force of law.”

The other point of unconstitutionality that the judge found is stop-and-frisk’s conflict with the 14th amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law and is generally agreed to ban most forms of racial discrimination. Given the fact that over 80% of those affected by this policy are either black or hispanic, the judge found that the NYPD had a policy of “indirect racial profiling based on local criminal suspect data.” As with the 4th amendment violations, the judge found that the department had been deliberately indifferent to this racial profiling.

The judge indicated that in an upcoming opinion she will order changes to stop-and-frisk and the “appointment of an independent monitor to oversee compliance ” with those changes. She concluded her ruling by quoting New York Times columnists Charles Blow on the universal suspicion that black men face every day, suspicion that comes not from reason but from an irrational emotional response.

I am normally skeptical of finding a program discriminatory if it doesn’t specifically outline discrimination. But I agree with judge that there was deliberate indifference on the part of the NYPD towards the harmful effects of stop-and-frisk. It’s also important to note that the judge declined to strike down the policy in its entirety, but rather propose changes and oversight to effectively address constitutional violations. given these measures, I am hopeful that the end result will be a policy that curbs crime and protects the rights of minorities.

It is almost a given that the NYPD will appeal this ruling and it could go all the way to the Supreme Court. And unless the judge issues an injunction against stop-and-frisk, these much needed reforms may be years away from implementation. Either way, this will be an fascinating case to watch in the coming months.


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