NYPD Hammered for Targeting|Minorities With Stop and Frisk

     MANHATTAN (CN) – The New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics that target minorities are unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Monday.
     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, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin found. She also said the practice violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
     Between 2004 and 2012, police made 4.4 million stops, and 80 percent of these stops were of blacks or Hispanics, Scheindlin ruled.
     In addition to a 198-page finding of liability, Scheindlin issued a 39-page remedies opinion that requires police to wear cameras during stop-and-frisk procedures. Scheindlin also appointed a federal monitor to oversee reforms within the department.
     Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Darius Charney called the ruling a “tremendous victory” and the beginning of sweeping reform within the police department.
     “The court called a spade a spade,” Charney said. “The NYPD targets people of a certain racial group for stops-and-frisks, and the court recognized that as racial profiling and properly found that that violates the Constitution.”
     Plaintiffs in the case also hailed the decision during a press conference Monday.
     “When I got the call this morning, the first thing I did was cry,” a visibly emotional David Ourlicht, one of the case’s plaintiffs, said. “It’s a big thing for New York, but for America as a whole, it shows the polarization of people of color in this country and how we’re viewed. I think it needs to be recognized.”
     Fellow plaintiff Lalit Clarkson said he joined the lawsuit to end what he called the “lowest level of police abuse.”
     “If we can take care of this then the higher forms [of abuse] will slowly fade away,” he said. “I could’ve been like Trayvon Martin.”
     A defiant Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted the ruling during a news conference Monday, calling Scheindlin’s ruling “a very dangerous decision by a judge who doesn’t understand how policing works.” He also vowed to appeal.
     “We believe we have done exactly what the courts allow and the Constitution allows us to do and we will continue to do everything we can to keep this city safe,” Bloomberg said.
     The mayor credited the policy with reducing the amount of guns and other weapons on the streets, driving down city’s murder rate and bringing about the lowest-ever percentage of teenagers carrying guns on the streets.
     “We are the poster child that everybody wants to follow,” Bloomberg said, adding that Scheindlin failed to mention the “stark cuts in crime or the number of lives” lost and “ignored the real world realities of crime.”
     He also challenged the notion that the NYPD targets minorities. “We go to where the crimes are,” Bloomberg said. “Those happen to be poor neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods.”
     The mayor also emphasized that 97 percent of all shooting victims last year were black or Hispanic living in low-income neighborhoods.
     Police Commissioner Ray Kelly also attacked the ruling during the news conference. “The most disturbing and offensive thing is the notion that the New York Police Department engages in racial profiling,” Kelly said. “That simply is recklessly untrue. We do not engage in racial profiling.
     “I can assure you that race is never a reason to conduct a stop.”
     City lawyer Michael Cardozo said Scheindlin created a “fundamental error” when she examined the evidence. “The judge looked at the roughly 8.5 million stops over an eight-year period and decided that at least 90 percent of those stops were clearly lawful,” he said during the news conference with Bloomberg and Kelly. “And that another 4 or 5 percent might have been lawful, you couldn’t tell.
     “Roughly 5 percent were found to be illegal,” he said, based on an expert whose conclusions were drawn “only on the pieces of paper that the police department filed.”
     Cardozo said he planned to ask the 2nd Circuit to stay Scheindlin’s ruling pending appeal.
     Scheindlin’s rulings cap a two-month federal bench trial that began in late May. 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.
     “While it is true that any one stop is a limited intrusion in duration and deprivation of liberty, each stop is also a demeaning and humiliating experience,” Scheindlin wrote. “No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about his activities of daily life.”
     Because the majority of the stops involved are “overwhelmingly people of color, they are justifiably troubled to be singled out when many of them have done nothing to attract the unwanted attention,” the judge added.
     Testimony from some of the plaintiffs showed that the stops make them feel unwelcome in parts of the city and distrustful of police, according to the ruling.
     “This alienation cannot be good for the police, the community or its leaders,” Scheindlin wrote. “Fostering trust and confidence between the police and the community would be an improvement for everyone.”
     “A police department that has a practice of targeting blacks and Hispanics for pedestrian stops cannot defend itself by showing that all the stopped pedestrians were displaying suspicious behavior,” Scheindlin added. “Indeed, the target of certain races within the universe of suspicious individuals is especially insidious, because it will increase the likelihood of further enforcement against members of those races as compared to other races, which will then increase their representation in crime statistics.”
     In the remedies opinion, Scheindlin noted that she wanted “to be very clear: I am not ordering an end to the practice of stop and frisk.”
     “The purpose of the remedies addressed in this opinion is to ensure that the practice is carried out in a manner that protects the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection,” she added.
     New York City had tried to justify the substantial stops in minority neighborhoods by pointing to higher crime rates in those areas.
     Scheindlin rejected that notion, adding that the city “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data.
     “I also conclude that the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” she wrote.”
     She appointed an independent monitor – Peter Zimroth, a partner with Arnold & Porter – to monitor the department’s compliance with efforts to fix the violations.
     Scheindlin also wants officers to wear cameras on their uniforms for one year in one precinct per borough – “specifically the precinct with the highest number of stops during 2012.”
     “Video recordings will serve a variety of useful functions,” she wrote. “First, they will provide a contemporaneous, objective record of stops and frisks, allowing for the review of officer conduct by supervisors and the courts.”
     The recordings would “confirm or refuse” the belief that minorities were stopped based solely on their race, “or based on the clothes they wore, such as baggy pants or a hoodie,” according to the ruling.
     Cameras also “will encourage lawful and respectful interactions on the part of both parties,” Scheindlin added.
     The department additionally must develop a type of form that officers will fill out after they make a stop, and a portion of that form must be given to the person stopped. Scheindlin lastly called for reforms in training new officers.

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