A federal judge ruled on Monday that the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk policy violated the constitutional rights of minorities, a major victory for Upper Manhattan politicians, who have unanimously opposed the controversial tactic.
While Judge Shira Scheindlin did not order the end of the controversial practice, in which police officers stop people they suspect may commit a crime and frisk them for illegal weapons or drugs, she appointed lawyer Peter Zimroth, CC ’63, as a federal monitor for the NYPD, and called for several other checks on the department.
Scheindlin said in her decision—which Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to appeal—that a monitor was necessary because the overwhelming prevalence of black and Hispanic people among those stopped violated the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
“The City adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data,” Scheindlin wrote, adding, “Both statistical and anecdotal evidence showed that minorities are indeed treated differently than whites.”
Politicians representing Harlem and Upper Manhattan, where many residents say they feel targeted by stop and frisk, applauded the decision.
“The decision proved that the policy should not be allowed in any part of our great City and Country,” Rep. Charles Rangel said in a statement, adding, “Our youth should not be afraid of the police, yet this is what the unfair policy resulted in.”
“It is a ruling that raises a lot of questions about police methods and reports about crime,” State Senator Bill Perkins said in an interview, calling stop and frisk “a racial injustice.”
The decision “indicates that this mayor's leadership on crime was a fraud,” Perkins said.
City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement that Zimroth “will surely institute a series of much-needed reforms over a policy that has relentlessly targeted low-income communities of color under the Bloomberg administration’s watch.”
Zimroth, a former head attorney for the city and former chief assistant U.S. attorney, will develop reforms for stop and frisk and issue public reports on the police department’s compliance every six months.
“The appointment of a federal monitor to oversee necessary changes is a welcome next step for our city, but it is little comfort to the young people that have already felt the shame of being stopped and frisked in public and made to feel like criminals,” State Senator Adriano Espaillat said in a statement.
“Our city and state government must take ownership of this civil liberties abuse, and enact legislative changes without relying on Washington,” he added.
While the use of stop and frisk has fallen in New York over the last several years—by 22 percent from 2011 to 2012, for example—supporters say it is an integral tool in the city’s successful fight against violent crime, and opponents call it a form of racial profiling.
According to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union, 88 percent of people stopped and frisked were not arrested or summoned to court, and 86 percent of those stopped and frisked were minorities.
Scheindlin, who wrote that she based her decision on statistical analyses as well as testimony from police officers and those who had been stopped, also called for a pilot program of police officers wearing body cameras to track how they acted during stops and a series of town hall meetings to allow the public to comment on potential reforms.
Zimroth, along with two other former top city lawyers, wrote a letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in March supporting a bill to create an inspector general for the NYPD.
Extra supervision for the department would “strengthen our security, improve the NYPD’s relations with communities throughout the City, and improve the work of the NYPD,” the lawyers wrote.
In the 1970’s, Zimroth represented a whistleblower NYPD officer whose testimony led to anti-corruption reforms in the department, the New York Daily News reported.
A graduate of Yale Law School and former Editor in Chief of the Yale Law Journal, he was active in student government at Columbia as an undergraduate.
Zimroth’s secretary said he was out of town until Thursday and unavailable for an interview.
At a press conference Monday afternoon, Bloomberg slammed Scheindlin and said he planned to appeal the decision.
“The judge made it clear she was not at all interested in the crime reductions we have made here,” he said, adding that she “ignored the real-world realities of crime.”
“There is no question that stop and frisk has saved countless lives,” he said.
According to Bloomberg, Scheindlin predetermined her decision and showed that she supported the plaintiffs in public comments and interviews.
“We didn’t believe we got a fair trial,” he said, adding that “no judge has ever appointed a city’s police department into receivership over a civil trial.”
Michael Cardoza, the city’s head attorney, said that while he still needed to do more analysis of the decision, he planned to ask the second circuit appeals court to stay the decision, delaying its implementation until after the appeal.
“You’re not going to see any change in tactics overnight,” Bloomberg said.
Standing alongside Bloomberg, police commissioner Ray Kelly defended his department.
“We do not engage in racial profiling,” he said, adding, “There were more stops in areas with higher crime because that’s where the crime is.”
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