NYC Federal Court Rules Major Part of ‘Stop & Frisk’ Unconstitutional


When we wrote an article entitled ‘2012: The Year Of Stop & Frisk’ a week ago, this is the last tidbit of news we expected to hear.

Yesterday, in Manhattan’s Federal District Court, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin struck down a main tent of the Bloomberg administration’s notorious crime-fighting tactic. In a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the practice by which police officials frisk tenets outside of private buildings was deemed unconstitutional as a breach of one’s Fourth Amendment rights. The logic goes that entering and leaving a building is by no means justification of search and seizure. This particular procedure was strictly limited to the Bronx through a program known as “Clean Halls.”
Besides the constitutional implications of the ruling, Scheindlin focused on the training aspect of stop and frisk that led to this infringement. The evidence brought by the NYCLU suggested that cops were taught to “stop and question first, develop reasonable suspicion later.” As a result, NYPD members were accused of stopping tenants for trespassing without any reason whatsoever.
As the final year of Mr. Bloomberg’s reign begins, the decision strikes a major blow to the Mayor and his police’s preferred use of crime control.
The case in subject, Ligon v. New York, involved a 17-year-old boy who left his residential building to go buy ketchup for his family. Outside, he was frisked by two police officials, who then rang up to his mom, Jaenean Ligon. She testified on behalf of her son, arguing that the officials sent her into an unnecessary panic.
In an eight-day hearing, the NYCLU argued that cases like this happen on a daily basis. Because of their repetition, Schiendlin agreed that line between what is constitutional and unconstitutional is blurred way too often, leading to the dismissal of the practice. Also, the decision for Ligon v. New York is handed down alongside two other significant pending stop and frisk cases. All three together significantly question (and could bring to an end) just what exactly the NYPD have been up for years now.
As to no one’s surprise, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was pissed at the decision. The stop and frisk enthusiast argued that landlords requested the practice as a safety precaution. But that defense only goes so far because, in the end, who wants to listen to their landlords?
With this decision and future cases in mind, the ball is now in the Federal Court to define the ending chapters of the Bloomberg Years. If stop and frisk was to be ended completely, what does that say about the Mayor’s progress? We could have the lowest crime in years but, if a court deems the practices that got us there unconstitutional, that leaves Mr. Bloomberg and the NYPD in a peculiar bind – one that could leave a dark shadow over a legacy.
This remains to be seen. We’ll keep you posted.