A federal judge has ruled a portion of the New York Police Department's controversial 'stop-and-frisk' program unconstitutional.
Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled on Tuesday that 'stop-and-frisk,' in which hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are detained and searched by NYPD officers each year, violates the constitution's Fourth Amendment ban of unreasonable search and seizure.
Scheindlin's ruling is the first in which 'stop-and-frisk,' which has been embraced by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as an effective crime fighting tactic, has been declared unconstitutional.
The case at hand involved NYPD stops that occurred in front of thousands of private homes in the Bronx that were participating in the Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP), under which property managers asked police to patrol their buildings and arrest trespassers.
"Where 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 while making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx," Scheindlin wrote in her ruling.
"Because any member of the public could conceivably find herself outside a TAP building in the Bronx, the public at large has a liberty and dignity interest in bringing an end to the practice of unconstitutional stops at issue in this case," Scheindlin continued.
"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. In light of the evidence presented..., however, I am compelled to conclude that this is the case."
Scheindlin also found fault with NYPD training procedures, which she said skirted the Fourth Amendment and taught officers that they should "stop and question first, develop reasonable suspicion later."
Christopher T. Dunn, a lawyer for the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented plaintiffs in the case, applauded the decision.
"If New York City has any sense, it will use this ruling as an opportunity to start a wholesale reform of 'stop-and-frisk,'" Dunn told the New York Times.
But New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly expressed his disappointment.
"Today's decision unnecessarily interferes with the department's efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep... buildings safe and secure," Kelly said.
'Stop-and-frisk' critics claim the practice discriminates against people of color, pointing to the fact that out of 685,724 New Yorkers stopped in 2011, 87 percent were black or Hispanic, yet 88 percent were innocent. Claims that 'stop-and-frisk' gets guns off the city's streets-- a stated goal of the program-- are also contested; in 2011, only 0.15 percent of stops-- 1 in every 650-- actually resulted in a firearms arrest.
Opponents also say 'stop-and-frisk' is a form of police entrapment. Although marijuana was decriminalized in New York in 1977, possessing the drug in public is still a crime. Often NYPD officers who stop 'suspects' ask them to empty their pockets, then arrest them when they produce marijuana since the drug is then considered 'in public view.' In 2011, 50,684 people were arrested for low-level marijuana offenses in New York-- the highest total of any city in the entire world. Critics claim 'stop-and-frisk' drug arrests are a contributing factor in the epidemic of mass incarceration, mostly of young people of color, in the United States that has resulted in a country with 5 percent of the world's population holding a quarter of its prisoners.