Closing Arguments Begin In NYPD's 'Stop-And-Frisk' Lawsuit

Robert Siegel talks with Margot Adler about Monday's closing arguments in the lawsuit challenging New York City's controversial "stop and frisk" policy.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The federal class-action trial of a New York City Police Department's Stop-and-Frisk policy wound down today. After nearly 10 weeks of testimony, both sides presented closing arguments.

NPR's Margot Adler was in the courtroom today and she joins us now. And, Margot, tell us how each side presented its case.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Well, each side had about three hours to sum up weeks of testimony. The question in the trial was really this: Do the almost 4.3 million stops over about eight years - five million over about a decade - of mostly black and Latino men constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment, unreasonable search and seizure; the 14th Amendment, equal protection. In other words, is this a form of racial profiling, or are they an important and reasonable part of police procedure, insuring New York City as the safest big city in America.

So, Heidi Grossman, the lawyer for the city - the defendant in this case - said there was no indication of racial motivation in the stops. She argued the plaintiffs only had 12 witnesses that were involved in 19 stops. And that most were based on reasonable suspicion - oh, a bulge in their pants, indicating perhaps a weapon, furtive movements, description of clothing that matched a suspect the police were looking for, being in a high crime area.

And she argued in most cases they consented to the search, which the plaintiffs' lawyers completely - had a completely different position. And that race was mentioned only one or two times. That they were mostly patted down. They were not really searched. She argued you had to find race-based discrimination and intent to do that in at least one plaintiff, and that that had not been achieved by the plaintiffs.

The city argued also that the claim that police were pushed to achieve quotas. That, in fact, they were simply performance goals that were necessary to counteract the police disincentives to danger, that as being risk averse, and that most officers only stopped a few people a month.

Plaintiffs' lawyers argued that the notion of furtive movements, a bulge in a pocket was used as a proxy for reasonable suspicion, that less than two percent of the stops uncovered any weapons or contraband1. And only - get this - 0.14 percent found guns - almost random. They argued that the stops laid waste to black communities, instilled fear; that pressure to increase numbers constituted quotas. And that combined with bad training and monitoring, this was all a disaster. And they argued that race was a factor in many of the 19 incidents, may be all.

SIEGEL: So, that's what the lawyers had to say I gather the judge also had some questions for both sides. What did she ask them about?

ADLER: Well, she had very pointed questions. She noted, not only the lack of guns and weapons, but she asked if 90 percent of those questioned were neither given summons nor arrested, wasn't that a high error rate. You know, and whether you called it performance goals or quotas, weren't supervisors often pushing up the numbers as some of these tapes provided by whistle blowing police officers certainly seem to indicate. And hadn't the stops increased yearly. And se asked whether many of the stops took place in high crime areas, if that was enough to constitute suspicion.

The plaintiffs want federal monitoring, better supervision. They want more information, more narrative on the forms. The city argues there are enough checks and balances, and that additional monitoring would impede the police in its main goals, stopping crime?

SIEGEL: Margot, tell us a bit how has this case has played out in the politics of New York City?

ADLER: Well. You know, Bloomberg is winding down his three terms...

SIEGEL: This is Michael Bloomberg, the mayor.

ADLER: Yes, the mayor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There's already a hot mayoral race, there have already been debates involving six candidates, and Stop-and-Frisk is a hot, hot topic. Mayor Bloomberg and Ray Kelly have defended the policy, saying it's mad the city safe. And many of the mayoral candidates are calling for changes.

SIEGEL: And when can we expect a ruling in this case?

ADLER: Probably not for about 60 days. The transcript is long, the judge could order changes. Whatever happens, there will definitely be an appeal. And this trial has opened a lot of interesting ideas and knowledge about the police department.

SIEGEL: OK Thank you, Margot.

ADLER: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Margot Adler in New York.

BLOCK: And just a reminder that we continue to follow news of the massive tornado that's carved a path of destruction near Oklahoma City. The town of Moore, Oklahoma, population 55,000, appears to have been the hardest hit. Television footage shows huge swaths of the city flattened. We're also trying to confirm reports that two elementary schools were in the storm's path. There's no word yet on casualties. We'll bring you more information as it comes in.

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