NYC Calls Upheaval of Stop & Frisk Premature
MANHATTAN (CN) - The 2nd Circuit should have a say before a federal judge's plan to curb racial disparities in stop-and-frisk police tactics takes effect, lawyers for New York City said.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin had found earlier this month that the ongoing practice of stopping innocent minority youth - mostly men - and frisking them for weapons or drugs before letting them go is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. She also said the practice violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.
Statistics from Columbia University professor Jeffrey Fagan show that the roughly 80 percent of the 4.4 million stops made between 2004 and 2012 targeted black and Latino New Yorkers and visitors, Scheindlin said.
The federal judge's recipe for curbing such disparities involves forcing police officers to wear video cameras while stopping and frisking suspects, document why they made every stop, and face the scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor on guard for racial profiling.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to appeal the ruling and his lawyers signaled the course of that opposition Tuesday with a six-page letter to Scheindlin.
The city lawyers claim to be confident that the 2nd Circuit will rule in their favor because Scheindlin's reforms have "no discernable end point or standards to measure success."
Without a stay to her order, the NYPD will have to retrain the rank-and-file on the dictates of the court's ruling, and then revert to the old protocols if the appellate court disagrees with Scheindlin's conclusions, according to the letter signed by Heidi Grossman.
"Thus, not only will defendants be harmed by having to train on what they believe are errors of law, should defendants later prevail on the appeal, the officers will have to be retrained again, undoubtedly leading to severe and possibly irreparable disruption and confusion among the rank and file," Grossman wrote.
Scheindlin's requirement for police to wear body cameras during stops also implicates the "privacy rights of the public," she added.
The letter attributes stop-and-frisk tactics for plummeting crime rates that New York City has experienced in the last 15 years. "As that crime reduction has been most heavily felt in minority communities, it is those communities that will suffer the most," Grossman wrote.
Criminologists dispute what role stop-and-frisk policing played in New York City's declining crime rates. A recent New York University study found little correlation between those drops and the NYPD's CompStat computer modeling program or other police initiatives.
Indeed, the NYPD's latest data shows that the drop in the city's murder rate has coincided with a steep decline in the number of stop-and-frisk encounters, the New York Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday.
"For years, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner [Ray] Kelly have rejected all criticism of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices by claiming that any reduction in the number of street stops would cause a spike in violent crime," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. "The latest numbers demonstrate an opposite pattern: as street stops plummeted, the murder rate fell.
"It's time that Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly abandon the scare tactics and engage New Yorkers in a meaningful discussion about reforming the practice of targeting black and Latino New Yorkers for unjustified and abusive police stops."
The group says street stops in the second quarter of 2013 represent a 57 percent decline from the same period last year. Murders in the same period declined about 27 percent, the group said.
Judge Scheindlin meanwhile said the effectiveness of the tactic was not the court's concern.
"This court's mandate is solely to judge the constitutionality of police behavior, not its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool," she wrote. "Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime - preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example - but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective," she wrote.
David Floyd, Lalit Clarkson, Deon Dennis and David Ourlicht - all of whom are black or Hispanic - filed the federal class action five years ago in Manhattan.