U.S. Disctrict Court Judge Shira Scheindlin handed down two landmark opinions on Monday. In Floyd v. City of New York, a federal class action lawsuit challenging racial profiling by the NYPD, Judge Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD's stop and frisk program violates the Constitution. A second order laying out remedies covers both Floyd and part of Ligon v. City of New York, a separate class action lawsuit challenging illegal stops and arrests for trespassing in and around private apartment buildings.
1. Judge Scheindlin's decision confirms that the NYPD's stop and frisk program violates the constitutional rights of black and Latino New Yorkers every day.
Specifically, the judge ruled in Floyd that the NYPD engages in unconstitutional stops and frisks, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, AND that the NYPD has a policy of indirect racial profiling, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. As Judge Scheindlin puts it, "The NYPD has repeatedly turned a blind eye to clear evidence of unconstitutional stops and frisks."
2. Judge Scheindlin did not order an end to stop and frisk.
In both opinions, Judge Scheindlin makes clear that she is not ordering an end to stop and frisk. As long as they apply it lawfully, the NYPD is free to continue to use stop and frisk as a law enforcement tool.
3. The second of the two opinions lays out specific solutions to ensure that stop and frisk is used lawfully in the future, including:
• An Independent Monitor, Peter L. Zimroth, to oversee the reform process.
• A Joint Remedial Process, which will prioritize the input of people most directly affected by stop and frisk.
• Immediate reforms of Stop and Frisk, to be developed by the Monitor and put in place until the Joint Remedial Process is complete.
• Changes to the way stops are documented, including the revision of the form used by officers to record stops to include narrative sections where officers will have to explain the reasons for stops and frisks.
• A one-year pilot program in which officers in one precinct in each borough will wear cameras on their bodies.
4. Even if you've heard them before, the statistics are shocking.
• Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted over 4.4 million stops.
• 88 percent of people stopped were completely innocent of any offense.
• In 52 percent of the stops, the person stopped was black. In 2010, New York City's population was roughly 23 percent black.
• Weapons were seized in 1.0 percent of the stops of blacks, 1.1 percent of the stops of Hispanics, and 1.4percent of the stops of whites.
5. In tens of thousands of stops, NYPD officers relied on vague, unconstitutional basis instead of individual suspicion required by law.
For example, in 2009, officers indicated "Furtive Movements" as a basis for the stop nearly 60 percent of the time. NYPD Officer Christopher Moran testified that "Furtive Movements" could include "looking over their shoulder" and "changing direction."
Only 14 percent of stops analyzed were of people who "fit the description" of a specific crime suspect. But even that 14 percent is problematic. NYPD Officer Edgar Gonzalez in Brooklyn's 88th precinct checked "Fits Description" as a basis for most of his 134 stops during a 3-month period in 2009. However, not a single one of those stops was based on any actual evidence that the person stopped had committed a crime.
6. Unlawful stops lead to unlawful arrests.
Just because 12 percent of stops led to summonses and arrests doesn't mean that those stops and arrests were themselves constitutional. For example, in Ligon Bronx Assistant District Attorney Jeannette Rucker, chief of the complaint and arraignment bureau, testified that she had seen numerous misdemeanor arrests stemming from unconstitutional stops, forcing her to institute a policy to decline to prosecute.
7. Stop and frisk causes real harm.
Floyd plaintiff Nicholas Peart wrote in the New York Times that, "Essentially, I incorporated into my daily life the sense that I might find myself up against a wall or on the ground with an officer's gun at my head."
Ligon plaintiff Charles Bradley works as a security guard but was stopped and arrested for trespassing while waiting for his fiancée downstairs from her apartment. The state agency that licenses security guards was notified of the arrest before Mr. Bradley had even appeared in court to defend himself against the charges, nearly costing Mr. Bradley his job.
8. Evidence presented during the trial in Floyd provides a window into NYPD culture.
Three NYPD officers made secret recordings of supervisors, which were played during the trial. In one recording a Sergeant orders, "If they're on a corner, make them move. They don't want to move, you lock them up. Done deal. You can always articulate later." In another, a Lieutenant says, "We own the block. They don't own the block, all right? They might live there but we own the block."
9. New York City still needs the Community Safety Act.
Last month, the New York City Council passed legislation creating an NYPD Inspector General and strengthening and expanding the existing ban on discriminatory policing. These measures are still needed, even with the appointment of an Independent Monitor. The remedies ordered in Floyd -- and the Monitor's role -- are specific to stop and frisk alone. The Community Safety Act creates a framework for oversight and accountability that will help the City avoid future lawsuits.
10. The ruling will make New York City safer.
There is no evidence that stop and frisk is responsible for New York City's remarkable drop in crime over the past 25 years. Violent crime started dropping in New York City in 1990 during the Dinkins administration. It dropped in cities around the country where stop and frisk was never implemented, like Los Angeles, New Orleans, Dallas, and Baltimore. And it has remained low over the past year as reported stops dropped.
Real safety comes from a police department that follows the law and respects people's fundamental rights, building trust with communities rather than undermining it. This week's historic ruling is a tremendous step in the right direction.
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