The New York Police Department’s practice of stop-and-frisk violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, a judge ruled yesterday in a decision that included a call for a court-assigned independent monitor to oversee several reforms.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration has aggressively defended the practice as necessary to keep crime at historic lows, called the decision “very dangerous.”
"We believe we have done exactly what the courts allow and what the Constitution allows us to do,” he said.
He promised to appeal the decision — but the legal fight will likely outlast his stewardship of the city and will be left to his successor. Democratic candidates for mayor largely said they would abide by the court’s decision. Republican candidates called on the Bloomberg administration to fight it.
In her decision, federal judge Shira Scheindlin found that the city’s stop-and-frisk relied on “indirect racial profiling” by targeting minority communities and that officers stopped “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.” She said the practice violated the Fourth Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said called that the most disturbing and offensive part of the court’s ruling.
"That's simply recklessly untrue," Kelly said. "We do not engage in racial profiling. It is prohibited by law. It is prohibited by our own regulations. We train our officers that they need reasonable suspicion to make a stop and I would assure that race is never a reason to conduct a stop."
Like he's done in the past, Bloomberg blamed the heightened focus on stop-and-frisk on "small group of advocates and one judge," and that he'd defer policing matters to police brass over its opponents.
"The public are not expert on policing," the mayor said. "Personally, I'd rather have Ray Kelly decide how to keep my family safe than somebody who's just in the streets saying, 'Oh, I don't like that.'"
The city will now have to meet with a court-assigned independent monitor, attorney Peter L. Zimroth, to discuss the issues set out by the opinion, said Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo. As soon as the monitor includes any order, Cardozo explained, the city would then seek a stay from the Second Circuit, which would then determine the next step in the case.
Scheindlin said in her ruling that her decision wasn't a call to end stop-and-frisk, but to ensure that it can be conducted in a constitutional manner. Instead, she suggested police use body-worn cameras for a trial period in one precinct in every borough and appointed a federal independent monitor.
(Bloomberg called the suggestion of cameras "a solution that's not a solution" and a nightmare scenario for NYPD.)
Scheindlin appointed trial attorney Peter L. Zimroth as monitor. A partner with Arnold & Porter LLP, Zimroth previously served as a chief assistant district attorney in Manhattan and an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
With the appointment of the monitor and the implementation of a new, independent inspector general to oversee the NYPD and make recommendations, policing in the city could be reshaped under the next mayor.
Bloomberg repeated an argument yesterday that the additional oversight would lead to dangerous confusion among the police ranks.
"If somebody pulls a gun and you want to get home to your family, you don't have time to say, 'Well, wait a second: the commissioner said one thing, the monitor said another and the IG said another," he said. "By that time you're dead. And I'd like to see you go to the funeral and explain to the family why their son or husband or father is not coming home at night."
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