Judge: NYPD’s ‘Stop and Frisk’ Policy Is Unconstitutional

Mayor vows to appeal after federal judge says program amounts to “indirect racial profiling.”

By Chris Hoenig

Judge: NYPD’s ‘Stop and Frisk’ Policy Is UnconstitutionalCalling it “indirect racial profiling,” a federal judge has ruled that the New York Police Department’s controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin stopped short of ordering a complete halt to the program, but she did appoint an independent monitor to oversee reforms to the practices to bring them in compliance with the Constitution. Officers in some of the busiest “Stop and Frisk” precincts will have to wear cameras as part of their uniforms, part of a one-year trial program to monitor and create an “objective record” of police interactions in the community.

City officials, who say that the “Stop and Frisk” program is a vital component to fighting crime, have blasted the decision. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city will seek to have the ruling put on hold while it appeals. But supporters of the ruling say police officers have been racially profiling city residents for years and will now have a chance to repair their relationship with those they serve and protect.

Bloomberg is in the final year of his third term as mayor, and the program is not supported by those running to replace him in City Hall. Bill Thompson, the former NYC Comptroller, has even compared “Stop and Frisk” to the suspicions that led George Zimmerman to follow and ultimately kill Trayvon Martin.

Under the Bloomberg administration, the NYPD has also targeted Blacks and Latinos for marijuana-possession arrests, even though studies have shown that whites actually smoke marijuana more than nonwhites. More than 85 percent of those arrested as part of an operation that cost the city at least $440 million were Black or Latino.

The “Stop and Frisk” Program

The NYPD’s policy allows officers to stop and frisk people for reasons including “furtive movements”; the possibility the suspect could be “casing a location” or “acting as a lookout”; or for “wearing clothes commonly used in a crime” or “inappropriate attire for the season.” Even just an officer’s knowledge of a suspect’s prior criminal behavior provides the legal grounds for a stop. A search can then be conducted if an officer finds a hard object, the outline of a weapon or obtains permission from the individual that was stopped.

The legal basis and criteria that allow for programs like “Stop and Frisk” were put in place in the1960s and 1970s; the exact start of the NYPD’s policy isn’t clear. But the first legal challenges came in 1999, when a lawsuit was filed following the shooting death of an unarmed African immigrant. Then–New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer followed with a civil-rights inquiry into the program, alleging widespread racial profiling.

Eye-Popping Statistics

The NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” policy has been one of the city’s biggest controversies for years. In 2003, as part of a settlement of the 1999 lawsuit, Judge Scheindlin ordered the NYPD to release detailed statistics about the program, part of an effort to allow the NYPD to self-police. The results have been alarming.

More than half of those stopped are Black, even though Blacks made up only 25 percent of the city’s population in the 2010 Census. Only about 10 percent of those who are stopped by the police are issued a summons or arrested, including only about 8 percent of Blacks who are stopped. Latinos made up about one-third of those stopped and issued a summons or arrested.

In 2011, young Black men accounted for more than 168,000 stops. To put that in perspective, only an estimated 158,000 young Black men even live in NYC.

In one Brooklyn neighborhood, the NYPD conducted more than 52,000 “Stop and Frisks” over a roughly four-year period, an average of 13,000 per year. Given Brownsville’s population of just 14,000, that equaled more than 92 percent of all of its residents being stopped once a year.

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9 comments


  • What’s going on with the police force now I cant frisk you, means I cant touch. but i can video you come on give me a break. what else is next.

  • Not That Surprised

    small victory towards forcing nypd’s finest to treat everyone equally.

  • This just goes to show that young African Americans that wander around doing things they shouldn’t be (ie; checking doors on cars and houses to see if they are locked), need to be questioned. They just need to change the name of the process from ‘Stop and Frisk’ to a more politically correct term like ‘Encounter and Inquire’. This gives the officer the chance to ask them their purposes and then decide if they need to pursue further. Even the black popuation wants something like this for the black on black crime. Wake up America!

    • Luke Visconti

      Are you sure your bank wants you to use its email for trolling? Do you think your bank’s Black customers would appreciate this comment? For those who want background, please do a web search for “Wake up America.” Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

    • You are very out of line to believe all black men are checking car and home doors to break into. Diversity Inc is to help people open their minds, not be a forum for racism!

    • Unlike white executives and people who commit what color crime (overwhelming white) that affect everyone in the nation (where’d my pension money go???) while getting a slap on the wrist or “jail” time at club feds or, even better, golden parachutes.

      Yeah, you are right, America does need to wake up. It’s needs to wake up to fingers being pointed over there! Look, its them! The cause of all your problems! While the pointers have their fingers in the till and laugh all the way to the bank.

      I’m awoke and its very clear to me exactly what’s going on.

  • Sadly the mayor has exposed his true feeling about S & F and minorities when;
    – In a radio interview said that police officers “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.”
    – In a news conference said that if his child was S&F, he would have concerns about the policy.
    – He turns a blind eye to eyewitness accounts and videos of police slamming kids to the ground, police whistleblowers stating that they had daily S&F quotas assigned to themt

    With this in mind is anyone surprised that after the court decision based on facts about the policy, he still feels nothing is wrong with S&F as long has it is minorities?

  • First of all, I am thankful to not live in either New York city or Chicago. While I have a problem with any laws that allow unlawful search I also see that New York has a problem. The fact is that the majority of shootings is occuring in the minority communities. The best thing as far as Im concerned is to let the communities where this is happening to either support it, to save lives, or reject it based on violation of their freedoms.

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