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)

On the ground, the program known as stop and frisk led to an estimated 4.3 million stop, question and frisk incidents between 2004 and 2012 alone, according to city data. Black or Latino pedestrians — most of them young men — were the focus of 85 percent of these stops, although the two minority groups together make up just over 50 percent of the city’s population.

Nearly 95 percent of these stops produced no arrest, no seizure of a weapon or other contraband or even a ticket requiring the recipient to appear in court. In fact, police discovered weapons in just 1 percent of the stops, and guns in only 14 percent. Black and Latino men were also disproportionately stopped and frisked in low-crime sections of the city. During the Floyd trial, a police officer described the entire borough of Queens as a high-crime area while on the stand.

“If the NYPD’s policy is to instill fear, it has worked,” said Gretchen Hoff Varner, a lawyer representing the group of men suing the city, during closing arguments. 

The men at the center of the two stop-and-frisk cases were not seeking financial compensation.

Scheindlin’s orders mandate immediate notification of the ruling to all police officers and new training for existing and future officers on ways to operate a constitutional stop-and-frisk program. Police officers must also produce more detailed records about each stop, and in those cases in which a stop and frisk does not produce an arrest or a citation, an officer is required to give the person stopped a form describing why he or she was stopped and frisked. The form will include identifying information about the officer and instructions for filing a complaint. The orders also require the police department to take more seriously the findings of the Civilian Complaint Review Board about specific officers.

Perhaps most notably, patrol officers in precincts that have produced the city’s highest number of stops will be required to wear body cameras that record their interactions with the public in a pilot project that must run for one year. Scheindlin indicated that in a city such as New York, where most people walk or rely on public transportation, body cameras could be as effective as more widely known dashboard cameras in creating a record of stop-and-frisk incidents that includes both the officer and the citizen’s point of view and prompts more polite and respectful interactions.

Janell Ross is a reporter in New York who covers political and economic issues. She is working on a book about race, economic inequality and the recession, due to be published by Beacon Press next year. Follow her on Twitter.