Shira Scheindlin, Judge in Stop-and-Frisk Class Action, Issues Historic Ruling Creating Monitor of NYPD [Updated]


In a historic ruling, a federal judge has ordered that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices will be overseen by an independent monitor–the first such move against the city’s police department ever. Mayor Bloomberg vowed to appeal the ruling.

In her ruling in the class-action lawsuit Floyd v. City of New York, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said the city acted with “deliberate indifference” in overseeing the NYPD’s crime-fighting strategy, and violated the civil rights of millions of New Yorkers in making unconstitutional stops.

The ruling is a blow for the legacies of police commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, both of whom stubbornly defended the strategy as legal and necessary to keep crime down.

“This case is not about the effectiveness of stop and frisk in deterring or combating crime,” Scheindlin wrote. “This Court’s mandate is solely to judge the constitutionality of police behavior, not its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool. Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime–preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example–but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective.”

In remarks made this afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg the city will appeal, arguing that Scheindlin ignored the “real world realities of crime,” that stop and frisk is an effective tool to reduce crime. Even though the plaintiff’s own expert found that most stops were conducted lawfully, he said, “the judge still wants to put the NYPD into receivership based on the flimsiest of evidence in a handful of cases.”

No federal judge has ever imposed a monitor over a city’s police department following a civil case, he added, “But one small group of advocates – and one judge – conducted their own investigation. And it was pretty clear from the start which way it would turn out.

Bloomberg also said the ruling will make the city “a more dangerous place.”

For his part, Commissioner Kelly called the decision “offensive and disturbing” for suggesting the NYPD engages in racial profiling. He said police have taken 8,000 guns off the streets through the strategy. “There were more stops with suspicious activity in neighborhoods with higher crime because that’s where the crime is,” he said.

“The appointment of a monitor, while unnecessary in this most monitored police department already, I believe will only document what we have known all along, that the New York City Police Department saves lives and that it trains its officers to do so lawfully and with full respect of the Constitution that serves and protects us all,” Kelly said.

In her “remedy” ruling, Scheindlin wrote that she had selected attorney Peter Zimroth, a partner in the firm of Arnold and Porter, to serve as monitor. He is married to the actress Estelle Parsons.

Zimroth has an extensive résumé, including stints as a city attorney, a former senior prosecutor in Manhattan, a former federal prosecutor, a Supreme Court clerk, and has been a member of numerous boards and panels. He also wrote a book about the prosecution of the Black Panthers called Perversion of Justice. He recently made a speech about the need to reform the state’s campaign finance system.

First, Zimroth will have to develop a set of training and policy reforms to reduce the occurrence of unconstitutional stops, and conduct “regular compliance reviews” to make sure the NYPD doesn’t continue to violate the law. He is supposed to issue public reports every six months. The city will have to pick up the full tab for his office. His tenure is open-ended.

Scheindlin could have ordered the NYPD to end the stop and frisk strategy entirely, but she stopped short of that, writing, “To be very clear: I am not ordering an end to the practice of stop and frisk. The purpose of the remedies addressed in this Opinion is to ensure that the practice is carried out in a manner that protects the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection.”

She pointed out that even as the number of stops declined over the past year, the crime rate also continued to fall. “By strictly adhering to the rule of law, the NYPD will achieve greater cooperation between police officers and the communities they serve. Fostering trust in the police will “promote, rather than hinder, [the] NYPD’s mission of safely and effectively fighting crime,” she wrote.

She contrasted the city’s unwillingness to settle the case with other municipalities “that have reached settlement agreements or consent decrees when confronted with evidence of police misconduct.”

As for the legal standard, Scheindlin wrote: “In order to conduct a stop, an officer must have individualized, reasonable suspicion that the person stopped has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. The officer must be able to articulate facts establishing a minimal level of objective justification for making the stop, which means more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch.”

She added, “‘Furtive movements’ are an insufficient basis for a stop or frisk if the officer cannot articulate anything more specific about the suspicious nature of the movement. The same is true of merely being present in a “high crime area.” Moreover, no person may be stopped solely because he matches a vague or generalized description–such as young black male 18 to 24–without further detail or indicia of reliability.”

She criticized “overly broad” definitions for a justified stop in police training manuals.

A central piece of evidence in the case, Scheindlin wrote, was a set of recordings made in three different police precincts by officers Adrian Schoolcraft, Adhyl Polanco, and Pablo Serrano. In particular, Scheindlin wrote that Schoolcraft’s recordings–the subject of a 2010 Village Voice series called The NYPD Tapes–“revealed a virulent precinct culture that the NYPD failed to address until forced to do so by the publication of the recordings.”

“The most striking aspect of the Schoolcraft recordings is the contempt and hostility of supervisors toward the local population,” she wrote.

One sergeant, she notes, “repeatedly instructs the officers that their careers depend on carrying out high levels of activity, and shows utter disregard for the requirement that a stop only be made based on a reasonable suspicion that crime is afoot.”

NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said, “This marks the beginning of a top-to-bottom revamping of stop-and-frisk.”

Comptroller John Liu, who is running for mayor, called for complete abolition of the practice: “Today’s ruling by Judge Scheindlin declaring that police have overstepped their authority highlights the enormous flaws in the NYPD’s ‘stop and frisk’ tactic, which has served to undermine trust between communities and law enforcement.”

One of his opponents, Sal Albanese, criticized other candidates, including Liu, Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, Anthony Weiner, and Bill Thompson, for their “reckless” proposals and statements on the issue. In particular he called out Thompson for comparing cops to vigilantes, and Weiner for comparing them to Nazis.

Albanese added: “I’m sure they will each use this ruling to stir up voters and fan flames against our rank-and-file officers. After all, they’ve been unwilling to express even a modicum of support for our officers. But the vast majority of New Yorkers won’t be fooled. Unlike my opponents, they exercise basic common sense.”