Stop and Frisk Violated Rights, Judge Rules

The practice led to a disregard for Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Opponents of NYC's stop-and-frisk policy rally in 2012. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Opponents of NYC's stop-and-frisk policy rally in 2012. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

According to Bloomberg and Kelly, the court-ordered changes to the program and the independent monitor will, if enforced, lead to more crime in the city. Kelly put it more bluntly: “When we stop and question and sometimes frisk someone on suspicion that they will commit a burglary, we have prevented a burglary … or worse.”

By driving down violent crime in the city, stop and frisk has saved more than 7,000 lives, Bloomberg said. Most of these crime victims would likely have been young black and Latino men, he said, making stop and frisk a sort of public service provided to people of color in New York City. The mayor also said that the city will appeal the court’s decision.

Although Scheindlin’s rulings apply directly only to New York City police, her decisions may have broad implications for the way police in other cities interact with the public. New York, home to the nation’s largest police force and lowest crime rate in a major city, has become widely regarded as a leader in the “proactive policing” movement in which police aim to prevent rather than just respond to crime. And although the orders require a series of immediate actions, several legal observers said that the city’s plans to appeal the court’s decision could put stop and frisk on track for a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Numbers Behind the Two Cases

The rulings released on Monday detail Scheindlin’s response to a pair of cases brought against the city of New York, its police department and several high-ranking municipal officials. In the first, a class action suit brought by young black and Latino men in the Bronx, known as Ligon v. City of New York, challenged the constitutionality of a widespread police practice: Police often stop and frisk mostly young black and Latino men who are seen inside, outside or near any of a number of buildings owned by individuals or even public agencies, such as the New York City Housing Authority, that have requested aggressive anti-trespassing patrols.

In January, Scheindlin ruled that the practice must be reformed and challenged the legal accuracy of some of the training given to police officers about what is a constitutionally allowable stop. But the judge put off ordering any specific changes until today. The second case, known as Floyd v. City of New York, involved a second group of black and Latino boys and men who have repeatedly been stopped, frisked, sometimes handcuffed and, in most cases, never arrested or even given a ticket by New York City police.

Lawyers for the two groups of men who sued the city, most of whom work for the New York-based nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights, also provided evidence that activities some might consider ordinary, certainly nonthreatening — such as adjusting one’s pants and carrying a cellphone in a pants pocket — appeared to be enough to make black and Latino men universally suspicious. Indeed, police and city lawyers have repeatedly described adjusting one’s pants, glancing over a shoulder while crossing a street, jaywalking and other mundane acts as “furtive movements,” and cellphones in pockets as “suspicious bulges.”