Police

Federal Judge Allows Class Action Challenging the NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Program

|

Today a federal judge certified a class action lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department's "stop and frisk" program, which is on track to break last year's record for harassing people whom cops deem suspicious. Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union reports, there were 685,724 stops, most of which involved pat-downs ostensibly aimed at discovering weapons. Nine out of 10 stops resulted in no arrest or summons, while 98 percent of the searches yielded no weapons (which Mayor Michael Bloomberg says just shows you how effective the program is). Eighty-seven percent of the people stopped were black or Latino.

In a 2008 lawsuit on behalf of four innocent New Yorkers who were detained, questioned, and (in three cases) searched by the NYPD, the Center for Constitutional Rights argues that police routinely stop people without the "reasonable suspicion" they are supposed to have under Terry v. Ohio, the 1968 Supreme Court decision on which the legal rationale for the program depends. The complaint says this practice violates the Fourth Amendment's ban on "unreasonable searches and sezures" and, because of the focus on racial minorities, the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.  

In allowing the lawsuit to proceed as a class action, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin emphasized that "suspicionless stops should never occur." She castigated the city for its "cavalier attitude towards the prospect of a 'widespread practice of suspicionless stops,'" which she said "displays a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers' most fundamental constitutional rights." She said a class action, which could cover hundreds of thousands of people (since there have been millions of stops since 2004), is appropriate partly because "the vast majority of New Yorkers who are unlawfully stopped will never bring suit to vindicate their rights." If the plaintiffs can show that the department is "engaging in a widespread practice of unlawful stops," Scheindlin said, "an injunction seeking to curb that practice is not a 'judicial intrusion into a social institution' [as the city argued] but a vindication of the Constitution and an exercise of the courts' most important function: protecting individual rights in the face of the government's malfeasance." 

Last week Mayor Bloomberg defended the stop-and-frisk program, which he said is not about catching bad guys but about deterring them from carrying guns, in the same way that sobriety checkpoints are supposed to discourage people from driving while intoxicated. As I pointed out, that analogy to random traffic stops, which the Supreme Court has allowed in the special case of checkpoints aimed at catching drunk drivers but not for the sake of detecting crime in general, seemingly concedes the argument underlying this lawsuit: that police are stopping and frisking people without reasonable suspicion, which is clearly unconstitutional. Notably, the one named plaintiff in this case who was not frisked repeatedly told police he did not consent to a search, and his refusal was observed by several witnesses, whose presence apparently prompted the cops to move along. Nothing to see here.

Prevous coverage of stop and frisk here.

NEXT: Cathy Young on Liberal Intolerance and the Firing of Naomi Schaefer Riley

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Today a federal judge certified a class action lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” program…

    Bloomberg and the NYPD brass and officers are probably shaking right now. Oh, wait, there are never any actual negative consequences to any individual agent of the state engaging in constitutional violations. The taxpayers might be miffed, though.

    1. Your poplawskian anti-cop bigotry is showing.

      You should thank a selfless, heroic officer of the law every time you make it home without being raped by marijuana smoking, hoody wearing, minority youths!

      1. I thank the cowcatcher mounted on my front bumper.

  2. Nine out of 10 stops resulted in no arrest or summons, while 98 percent of the searches yielded no weapons (which Mayor Michael Bloomberg says just shows you how effective the program is). Eighty-seven percent of the people stopped were black or Latino.

    Careful Sullum, Cathy Young liable to declare you a reality-denying socialist for your dogmatic assumption that Stop-and-Frisk isn’t really about stopping crime.

  3. “Eighty-seven percent of the people stopped were black or Latino.”

    In 96% of shooting cases where the race of the suspect is known the shooter is black or Latino.

    So it sounds like, if they are going to search, they are at least getting the right groups.

    1. In 96% of shooting cases where the race of the suspect is known the shooter is black or Latino.

      [citation required]

    2. “Eighty-seven percent of the people stopped were black or Latino.”

      In 96% of shooting cases where the race of the suspect is known the shooter is black or Latino.

      So it sounds like, if they are going to search, they are at least getting the right groups.

      Which is completely immaterial to the question of “stop and frisk” being a constitutional and rights violation. Even if it were not, 96% of shootings being committed by blacks and Latinos is not the same thing as 96% of blacks and Latinos shoot people.

  4. Odd. Dunphy made the PM links to discuss his investment portfolio from the 90’s but missed this thread. I guess he just didn’t have the time to come on here and defend The Badge?.

  5. Experienced Cougar Ladies seeking and dating younger Men Toy Boys.(please check CougarLure.C?M !! out).Every_sexy_cougar_is_welcome_here !if_you_ interested_in_meeting_Younger_Men !

    1. Somebody needs to get this link to Goldwater.

  6. Hmm… 90% (9 out of 10) of the stops did not result in arrest/summons but only 2% turned up a weapon.

    So what were the other 8% arrested or given summons for? If the purpose is to find weapons how can they cite or arrest somebody if they happen to find something else other than a weapon?

  7. while 98 percent of the searches yielded no weapons (which Mayor Michael Bloomberg says just shows you how effective the program is)

    If we don’t find many weapons that means the program is effective as a deterrent. If we do find a lot of weapons that means the program is effective at getting weapons off the street. Can’t you see this is a win-win?

    1. That’s about the same success rate as our local DUI checkpoints. And our County Mounties say the exact same thing about it being proof that they work, so i guess it must be true.

  8. Oh yeah, and a big THIS to:

    “…an exercise of the courts’ most important function: protecting individual rights in the face of the government’s malfeasance.”

    Are you listening, SCOTUS?

  9. That does indeed make a lot of sense dude.

    http://www.Privacy-Rules.tk

  10. Who even does the paperwork on 685k police interactions of a single type each year? Fuck, that’s over 1800 a day. What the hell else is NYPD doing? They must have a huge number of officers. Not to mention the fact that the repeat rate o individuals is pro ably quite high. I wonder ehat gives people the impression of police harassment?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.