Today a federal judge ordered the New York Police Department to stop routinely detaining and frisking people outside buildings in the Bronx under the so-called Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP). The program, conducted in cooperation with landlords, is supposedly aimed at trespassers, but U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin found that police frequently harass tenants and guests who have a right to be where they are:
While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the N.Y.P.D. has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx. 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 at the hearing, however, I am compelled to conclude that this is the case.
Scheindlin was responding to a lawsuit brought by Jaenean Ligon, whose 17-year-old son was detained and frisked by police outside their apartment building in August 2011 on his way back from buying ketchup to go with the family's dinner. Scheindlin emphasized that the Fourth Amendment requires "reasonable suspicion" that someone is trespassing before he can be stopped by police as an allegedly unauthorized intruder. The fact that someone has entered or exited a building is not enough, she said, and neither are "furtive movements" or the target's presence in a high-crime area, the rationales most frequently offered by police on forms documenting their stops.
Scheindlin is also handling a case involving stop-and-frisk encounters in public housing projects and a class action arguing that the overall program violates the Fourth Amendment because stops often are not based on reasonable suspicion and the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause because the targets, who are overwhelmingly black or Hispanic, are selected based on race. Her decision in Ligon v. City of New York is here.