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Monday, August 12, 2013

WHY JUDGES MATTER: Once again, federal judge says NYPD’s approach to “stop-and-frisk” is unconstitutional

The New York Times calls the decision “blistering.”  Reuters calls it “stinging.”

The news stories concern a decision by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin.  She ruled that the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York City Police Department are unconstitutional.

She didn’t stop there.  Judge Scheindlin imposed a series of remedies, including naming an independent monitor to oversee reforms.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city will appeal.  Judge Scheindlin was nominated by President Clinton in 1994.  She now has senior status, meaning she hears fewer cases.

The decision was not a surprise.  As discussed in a previous post to this blog Judge Scheindlin ruled in January that a different, much smaller stop-and-frisk program also was unconstitutional.
According to the Times:
Judge Scheindlin’s criticism extended beyond the conduct of police officers; in holding the city liable for a battery of constitutional violations, the judge found that top police officials acted with deliberate indifference. She said that police commanders were content to dismiss allegations of racial profiling as “a myth created by the media.” …
“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. … Judge Scheindlin found, the city had a “policy of targeting expressly identified racial groups for stops in general.”
The New Yorker notes on its website that the judge also alludes several times to the death of Trayvon Martin:
In prescribing, for the N.Y.P.D., a pilot program in which police will be equipped with personal cameras that record their interactions with civilians (a California police department saw a steep decline in civilian complaints after taking similar steps), Scheindlin wrote:
"Video recordings will serve a variety of useful functions. 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 may either confirm or refute the belief of some minorities that they have been stopped simply as a result of their race, or based on the clothes they wore, such as baggy pants or a hoodie."
Reuters cited data from the New York Civil Liberties Union concerning the massive scope of the program:

>> The number of stops rose to 685,724 in 2011 from 160,851 in 2003, with about half resulting in physical searches.

>> In 2011, there were more frisk searches of young black men than the number of these men living in the city.

>> Only 1.8 percent of blacks and Latinos searched by the police in 2011 had weapons on them, compared with 3.8 percent of whites.

Bloomberg sought to justify the stop-and-frisk tactics by crediting them for a reduction in crime.   But as we noted in our previous blog:
many experts say there is not even a modicum of increased safety.  John Eterno, a retired New York City police captain, and a professor of criminal justice writes:
The N.Y.P.D. policy of aggressive stop and frisk in mostly minority neighborhoods is a dangerous and destructive practice that alienates minority youth and does little to fight crime. Similar policies have been tried in the past with catastrophic results. 
Bloomberg also claimed Judge Scheindlin  “does not understand how policing works.” But, presumably, former prosecutors know exactly how policing works.  Again, from our previous blog:
Former federal prosecutor Paul Butler notes that in Brownsville, an inner-city neighborhood in Brooklyn, “the average young man is seized and searched five times a year.”  He says this  “breeds disrespect for the law” and discourages potential witnesses from cooperating with law enforcement.  “The problem with stop and frisk is not only that it makes the citizens of New York less free,” Butler writes, “it also makes them less safe.”

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