When Proactive Policing Becomes Harassment

Why the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program is unconstitutional

The first time David Floyd was stopped and frisked, on a Friday afternoon in April 2007, he was walking down Beach Avenue a few doors from his house in the Bronx when two police officers confronted him, demanding to know who he was, where he was going, what he was doing, and whether he was carrying any weapons. Floyd, at the time a freelance film editor and now a medical student, presented his driver's license and explained that he was walking home.

Unsatisfied, one of the officers searched Floyd, feeling under his shirt and inside his pants pockets. He found nothing illegal. Testifying last week in federal court, Floyd said the incident left him feeling "frustrated [and] humiliated, because it was on my block where I live, and I wasn't doing anything."

Floyd's experience seems to be typical of the 5 million or so street stops recorded by the New York Police Department in the last decade. Police almost never discover guns, and nearly nine times out of 10 they do not make an arrest or even issue a summons. The class action lawsuit that bears Floyd's name persuasively argues that such unjustified harassment of innocent people violates the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The legal basis for the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program is supposed to be a 1968 Supreme Court decision arising from a police encounter quite different from the ones described by Floyd and the many other New Yorkers, overwhelmingly black or Latino, who are hassled by cops for no apparent reason every year. The case, Terry v. Ohio, involved a Cleveland detective who saw two men take turns walking back and forth in front of a store, peering into the window, about a dozen times, conferring with each other between trips.

The detective surmised that the two men were casing the store, which they planned to rob along with a third man who joined them later. Confronted by the detective, who asked for their names, the three men "mumbled something," whereupon the officer grabbed one of them and patted down his overcoat, finding a revolver in the breast pocket; one of the other men was also carrying a revolver in his overcoat. The Supreme Court said the detective's actions were consistent with the Fourth Amendment because he reasonably suspected that the men were engaged in criminal activity and that they were armed.

The track record of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program suggests that its officers' suspicions of criminal activity are frequently less than reasonable, since they turn out to be right only 12 percent of the time. That impression is reinforced by the forms that officers fill out after these encounters, which rely heavily on all-purpose excuses such as "furtive movements" and "high crime area" to justify stopping people.

When she certified Floyd v. City of New York as a class action last year, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin noted that in 2009 "officers listed no coherent suspected crime" on more than a third of the forms. She also observed that "for every sixty-nine stops that police officers justified specifically on the basis of a suspicious bulge [from 2004 through 2009], they found one gun."

As the number of stop-and-frisk encounters initiated by the NYPD grew from about 100,000 in Michael Bloomberg's first year as mayor to almost 700,000 in 2011, the share of stops yielding guns fell from 0.38 percent to 0.033 percent. Bloomberg says that trend shows the program is working, because "the whole idea…is not to catch people with guns; it's to prevent people from carrying guns."

If so, the policy is plainly inconsistent with the Supreme Court's Fourth Amendment rulings, which do not allow random searches aimed at deterring crime. It is telling that Bloomberg, confronted by the argument that his beloved stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional, responds by insisting that it works. Rights are not contingent on the effectiveness of the police tactics that violate them.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The class action lawsuit that bears Floyd's name persuasively argues that such unjustified harassment of innocent people violates the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

    Everyone knows that when you willingly reside in New York City, that's a tacit agreement with authorities that you forfeit your constitutional protections. It's the price of whatever the fuck you get out of living in New York City.

  • StinkEye||

    Being fucked with by assorted NYPD thugs is an essential part of their "community outreach program". It's a grassroots campaign to get out on the streets, meet people, slam then over the hood of a squad car, and violate them in full view of their community. A well thought out, hands on approach to re-establishing trust, faith, and obedience with the law enforcement community...

  • John C. Randolph||

    This kind of shit has a nasty tendency to boil over. At some point, the people the NYPD harasses are going to realize that they outnumber the cops, and there’s going to be hell to pay. I hope every shopkeeper in NYC has a firearm hidden away. They’re going to need them, since the NYC riots are going to make the LA riots look like a walk in the park.

    -jcr

  • Willfiredog||

    These are the same people who beg Bloomberg for protection from themselves. At this point I think New Yorkers are closet masochists with a police fetish.

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  • Emmerson Biggins||

    I think we are going to need Federal Oversight. All police force in NYC decisions are going to have to be cleared with the Federal Government, for at least the next 50 years.

  • ||

    "It is telling that Bloomberg, confronted by the argument that his beloved stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional, responds by insisting that it works."

    I am sure Bloomburg makes the subways run on time too.

  • StinkEye||

    I am sure Bloomberg makes the subways run on time too".

    When he's not tearing the wings off of butterflies....

  • AlmightyJB||

    Those wings belong to the state. That's what they get fornot paying their wing tax. If you live in NY you damn well pay your penis tax. Don't make him break out his special sissors.

  • StinkEye||

    Butter is produced by butterflies, it's high in salt, cholesterol, and fats/transfats, by tearing their wings off, they cannot migrate to spread their poisons...

    /Bloomberg

  • mr simple||

    What compliant little toadies these New Yorkers be. They even changed their term limit laws to allow him an extended stay in office. There was a time when petty tyrants like him would be tarred and feathered. What do these people "feel" they get out of this relationship? They're obviously not thinking.

  • SumpTump||

    Well when you consider that MOST of the crimes committed are committed by "black folk" whats so unjustified about it?

    www.TopAnon.tk

  • StinkEye||

    Anonbot, you disgust me.

  • ||

    It is Pedo-bot....and Pedo-bot scares me. I am wondering if Pedo-bot's AI is now generating sarcasm.....which scares me even more.

  • StinkEye||

    "and the best part is....he's learning!"

  • WTF||

    He's apparently added Racist-bot to his Pedo-bot tendencies.

  • StinkEye||

    Anonbot claimed to be drunk, and trying to be edgy, with that awkward "pics or it didn't happen" quip, but the mask really slipped off this time.

  • GroundTruth||

    Kudos to David Floyd for standing up and saying "No more!" to this sort of thing.

  • Ron||

    Yes finally someone. I hope he wins otherwise we will all be screwed by this tyranical practice. And when he wins maybe somebody can use this as a basis to stop the equally tyranical drunk driving check points as well.

  • Rich||

    As the number of stop-and-frisk encounters initiated by the NYPD grew from about 100,000 in Michael Bloomberg's first year as mayor to almost 700,000 in 2011, the share of stops yielding guns fell from 0.38 percent to 0.033 percent. Bloomberg says that trend shows the program is working, because "the whole idea…is not to catch people with guns; it's to prevent people from carrying guns."

    Obviously the solution is to frisk everybody all the time.

  • AdamJ||

    The TSAusy really be working, because they haven't caught shit!

  • AdamJ||

    "TSA must really be working..."

  • Virginian||

    Tough, gutsy, independent, take no bullshit from anyone New Yorkers! Greatest city in the world!

  • wwhorton||

    Impossibly high cost of living, authoritarian rule by a tyrannical plutocrat, layers upon layers of bureaucracy ensuring that you can't park a car in the same place twice without having to pay Sri Lanka's defense budget to get it released from the tow yard, and hordes of leftist hipsters looking down at everyone they can see. What's not to like?

    I think NYC is a dystopian, totalitarian hellhole, and I'm from Maryland, for chrissakes!

  • BeBraveUSA||

    Yes but we Coloradans love being ruled by New Yorkers...It must be so given our newly crafted 2nd amendment fisting.

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  • ||

    Can I do this from New York City?

  • erikemiller@me.com||

    Who would ever want to live in New York City? ugh!

  • StackOfCoins||

    Hipsters, statists, power-fellating authoritarians, self-described "artists", and the truly wealthy in their ivory towers...

  • John C. Randolph||

    So, bloomberg admits that the purpose of “stop and frisk” is to deter people from exercising their second amendment rights? Sounds like a confession of a massive conspiracy to deprive people of their rights under color of authority.

    -jcr

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    All together now, "Because Fuck You! That's why."

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