NYPD's 'Stop-And-Frisk' Deemed Unconstitutional

A federal judge in New York City ruled that the police department has been violating the civil rights of tens of thousands of minority New Yorkers with its practice of warrantless searches, better known as "stop-and-frisk." It's a rebuke for city officials have defended the tactic as an important crime-fighting tool. Judge Shira Scheindlin is appointing a federal monitor to oversee reforms at the department.

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A federal judge ruled today that the New York City Police Department has violated the civil rights of minorities for years. The judge was examining the NYPD's use of tactics known as stop-and-frisk. Judge Shira Scheindlin found those tactics unconstitutional and appointed an independent monitor to oversee the nation's largest police department. The mayor says the city will appeal today's decision. Here's NPR's Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: For more than two months, Judge Scheindlin heard testimony from a procession of young African-American and Latino men who said they had been stopped, questioned and frisked by the NYPD with little explanation and even less respect. Nicholas Peart is one of those plaintiffs. He says the stops let him feeling mistrustful of police and powerless until today's ruling.

NICHOLAS PEART: It restores a sense of trust that, you know, our voices do count and count towards something, you know, greater.

DARIUS CHARNEY: This is a historic and long overdue victory.

ROSE: Darius Charney is a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been litigating this issue for over a decade as the NYPD has made millions of warrantless stops.

CHARNEY: It's a recognition on the part of the court that what the city has been doing for now more than 15 years, really, has been denying the existence of a widespread practice of unconstitutional behavior. And that needs to stop today.

ROSE: In an opinion running close to 200 pages, Judge Scheindlin found that the NYPD engaged in widespread racial profiling and deliberately violated the civil rights of young black and Latino New Yorkers for over a decade.

RAY KELLY: That simply is recklessly untrue. We do not engage in racial profiling. We train our officers that they need reasonable suspicion to make a stop. And I can assure you that race is never a reason to conduct a stop.

Ray Kelly is New York City's police commissioner. He and other city officials have long contended that stop-and-frisk is legal and that it makes the city safer. Murder and other violent crime in New York is at its lowest levels in decades. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted the judge for ignoring those practical considerations.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Throughout the case, we didn't believe that we were getting a fair trial, and this decision confirms that suspicion.

ROSE: Judge Scheindlin also imposed a series of remedies on the NYPD, including an independent monitor who will be empowered to enforce a long list of changes to the way officers are trained and supervised. Bloomberg says too much outside interference will make it harder for the NYPD to do its job.

BLOOMBERG: This is a very dangerous decision made by a judge that I think just does not understand how policing works and what is compliant with the U.S. Constitution as determined by the Supreme Court.

ROSE: Bloomberg vowed to appeal the ruling, but he can't fight it forever. His term runs out at the end of the year. He's also fighting the city council, which is trying to implement its own reforms. Plaintiff Leroy Downs wants to see today's ruling result in changes at the NYPD.

LEROY DOWNS: I'm hopeful that the policies can actually change, man, like, not just talk about change, but really change, really make those adjustments that people can walk down the street or can stand in front of their house with their cellphones and not have to worry about, you know, being accused of being a drug dealer or something like that.

ROSE: In her ruling, Judge Scheindlin says she doesn't want to end the practice of stop-and-frisk, just reform it. One way or another, the NYPD's critics say that goal now seems closer than ever. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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