If you have an interest in taking a closer look at the controversy over New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” practices and the recent court decision declaring them unconstitutional, consider:
New York legislation provides that a police officer may stop persons for questioning and search for weapons under certain circumstances “when he reasonably suspects that such person is committing, has committed or is about to commit” a crime. See New York Criminal Procedure Law 140.50, which “essentially codifies” the Supreme Court’s decision in Terry v. Ohio (1968). With this legislation as its basis, New York City developed the practices known as “stop and frisk.” The practices are detailed and explained here and here.
Widely condemned by civil liberties groups, “stop-and-frisk” was defended vigorously by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
On August 12, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled the policy violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities. The opinion, which runs over 190 pages, concludes:
… I find that the City is liable for violating plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The City acted with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD’s practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks. Even if the City had not been deliberately indifferent, the NYPD’s unconstitutional practices were sufficiently widespread as to have the force of law. In addition, the City adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data. This has resulted in the disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of blacks and Hispanics in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Both statistical and anecdotal evidence showed that minorities are indeed treated differently than whites. For example, once a stop is made, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be subjected to the use of force than whites, despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with weapons or contraband. 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. … One NYPD official has even suggested that it is permissible to stop racially defined groups just to instill fear in them that they are subject to being stopped at any time for any reason – in the hope that this fear will deter them from carrying guns in the streets. The goal of deterring crime is laudable, but this method of doing so is unconstitutional.
Among the undisputed facts that supported Judge Scheindlin’s conclusions were these:
- Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted over 4.4 million Terry stops
- 52% of all stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons. A weapon was found after 1.5% of these frisks. In other words, in 98.5% of the 2.3 million frisks, no weapon was found.
- In 52% of the 4.4 million stops, the person stopped was black, in 31% the person was Hispanic, and in 10% the person was white
- In 2010, New York City’s resident population was roughly 23% black, 29% Hispanic and 33% white.
- Between 2004 and 2009, the percentage of stops where the officer failed to state a specific suspected crime rose from 1% to 36%.
In a recent blog post, Linda Greenhouse examined the issue and considered how the current U.S. Supreme Court might address “stop and frisk,” in the unlikely event that the case were appealed to that level. Considering a pair of opinions, written by Justices Scalia and Ginsberg, Greenhouse concluded it is hard to predict:
How would Floyd v. City of New York have fared at the Supreme Court? The answer is I’m not sure. Pondering the question has been an abstract exercise, in the absence of a Court of Appeals decision that would precede any Supreme Court appeal, and without the briefs that would define and sharpen the issues. But with only six weeks to go before the first Monday in October and the court’s return, it’s worth trying to limber up for the justices’ return by looking at this case through their eyes.
To the question of whether I’m glad the case will likely not find its way to the Supreme Court’s door, the answer is yes.
The New York Times and other new sources have provided extensive coverage of the controversy and the ongoing legal action involving “stop and frisk.” On August 27, the City asked Judge Scheindlin to issue a stay of her order pending appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.