The judge overseeing a challenge to NYPD stop-and-frisk tactics said she was "intrigued" by the idea of requiring the police to use body cameras that would record street stops as the 10-week trial in federal court in Manhattan came to an end Monday.
"Everyone would know exactly what occurred," said U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who brought the idea up on her own and suggested a pilot project in a few precincts. "I'm intrigued. It seems it would solve a lot of problems."
The exchange occurred near the end of a long day of closing arguments in a case testing claims that police, while conducting 4.4 million stops since 2004, have repeatedly intervened without the "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity required by the Supreme Court, and have disproportionately targeted minorities. Only one in 10 people stopped is issued a summons or arrested.
Scheindlin, if she finds against the city, has been asked to order improvements in training and supervision, name a court monitor, and even have cops hand out a copy of a form documenting the stop to the target to create accountability.
The judge caught both sides by surprise by bringing up cameras, which she said a city expert mentioned were used elsewhere last week. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said it was a good idea, but a city lawyer jumped up to object that the city had no notice of the idea.
Earlier, the two sides rehashed well-rehearsed arguments during more than six hours of summations. The city said that 12 individual witnesses who claimed they were victims of 19 different baseless stops were unpersuasive, and that the low "hit rate" of stops leading to an arrest, a summons or a weapon didn't mean an officer didn't have a reasonable suspicion.
City lawyer Heidi Grossman also said the fact that 85 percent of stops targeted blacks and Hispanics was consistent with the proportion of minorities identified as crime suspects. "They failed to show a single constitutional violation, much less a widespread pattern or practice," Grossman said.
Scheindlin, who will decide the case without a jury and is widely expected to rule against the city, said she was troubled by the low success rate of the stops. "There's nine of ten with no enforcement value," she told Grossman. "That's a lot of innocent people being stopped. That's a big error rate. That's a lot of mistaken suspicion."
But Grossman responded that as stops quintupled during the past decade, the city's crime rate dropped. "If the police were only stopping innocent people, you wouldn't see the crime rate going down," she said.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that illegal stops were a product of pressure for "proactive" policing from police headquarters, and pointed to testimony from two whistle-blower cops and secretly recorded tapes of roll calls at three precincts as evidence that supervisors were effectively imposing quotas for stops on patrol officers.
They said the belief that a disproportionate number of young black and Hispanic men among crime suspects justified targeting them for a disproportionate number of stops had produced lawlessness.
"The NYPD has laid siege to minority neighborhoods," said plaintiffs' attorney Gretchen Hoff Varner, "throwing the Fourth Amendment out the window and making people of color afraid to come out of their homes."
Scheindlin gave the two sides three weeks to file post-trial briefs. After that, she said, she hopes to decide the case as quickly as possible.