NEW YORK (Reuters) – In a stinging rebuke to the Bloomberg administration, a federal judge ruled on Monday that the New York City Police’s “stop and frisk” crime-fighting tactics violate the constitutional rights of minorities, despite claims by the mayor and police commissioner that it has driven down rates of violent crime.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the police adopted a policy of “indirect racial profiling” by targeting racially defined groups for stops, resulting in the disproportionate, discriminatory stopping of tens of thousands of blacks and Hispanics, and that the city’s highest officials “turned a blind eye” toward this result, she said.
“No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life,” Scheindlin wrote in her opinion.
Police personnel felt or were aware of pressure to increase the number of stops when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002 and brought in Raymond Kelly to be NYPD Commissioner, the judge wrote.
As a result, officers often frisked young minority men for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband before letting them go, in a violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, the judge said in a 195-page decision.
A 2012 New York Civil Liberties Union report showed a sharp, steady increase in police stops over the course of Bloomberg’s three terms in office – to 685,724 in 2011 from 160,851 stops in 2003, with about half of the 2011 stops resulting in physical searches.
Bloomberg and Kelly countered that the practice has driven down violent crime and limited the number of illegal guns being carried on the streets on New York.
Scheindlin’s major decision follows an exhaustive nine-week trial that ended in May that pitted the NYPD’s interest in keeping New York’s crime rate down against black and Latino plaintiffs who felt discriminated against. Scheindlin presided over the trial without a jury.
The NYPD did not immediately comment on the decision.
As part of her ruling, Scheindlin ordered the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee compliance with other remedies she ordered.
The other remedies include the NYPD adopting a written policy specifying circumstances where stops are authorized; adopt a trial program requiring the use of body-worn cameras in one precinct in each of the city’s five boroughs; and to set up a community-based remedial process under a court-appointed facilitator.
(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan, Chris Francescani, Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Philip Barbara)