A federal judge ruled on Monday that the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city, repudiating a major element in the Bloomberg administration’s crime-fighting legacy.
The use of police stops has been widely cited by city officials as a linchpin of New York’s success story in seeing murders and major crimes fall to historic lows. The police say the practice has saved the lives of thousands of young black and Hispanic men by removing thousands of guns from the streets.
But the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, found that the Police Department resorted to a “policy of indirect racial profiling” as it increased the number of stops in minority communities. That has led to officers’ routinely stopping “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.”
The judge called for a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms, including the use of body-worn cameras for some patrol officers, though she was “not ordering an end to the practice of stop-and-frisk.”
In her 195-page decision, Judge Scheindlin concluded that the stops, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, as well as the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg angrily accused the judge of deliberately denying the city “a fair trial” and said the city would file an appeal.
Striking a defiant tone, Mr. Bloomberg said, “You’re not going to see any change in tactics overnight.” He said he hoped the appeal process would allow the current stop-and-frisk practices to continue through the end of his administration because “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying.”
The judge found that for much of the last decade, patrol officers had stopped innocent people without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. But her criticism went beyond the conduct of police officers.
“I also conclude that the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” she wrote, citing statements that Mr. Bloomberg and the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, have made in defending the policy.
Judge Scheindlin ordered a number of remedies, including a pilot program in which officers in at least five precincts across the city will wear cameras on their bodies to record street encounters. She also ordered a “joint remedial process” — in essence, a series of community meetings — to solicit public comments on how to reform the department’s tactics.
The judge named Peter L. Zimroth, a partner in Arnold & Porter L.L.P., and a former corporation counsel and prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, to monitor the Police Department’s compliance with the United States Constitution. The installation of a monitor will leave the department under a degree of judicial control that is certain to shape the policing strategies under the next mayor.
Judge Scheindlin’s decision grapples with the legacy of Terry v. Ohio, a 1968 ruling by the Supreme Court, which held that stopping and frisking was constitutionally permissible under certain conditions. But she said that changes to the way the New York Police Department employed the practice were needed to ensure that the street stops were carried out in a manner that “protects the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection.”
The judge found that the New York police were too quick to deem suspicious behavior that was perfectly innocent, in effect watering down the legal standard required for a stop.
“Blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites,” she wrote.