Monday, August 12, 2013

Federal Judge: NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Practices Violate the Constitution

As much as they would like to, cops can’t stop and search you for no reason. Officers must be able to identify factors causing them to reasonably suspect that you are or were involved in criminal activity before they can detain you. Even then, a reasonable belief that you’re up to no good, by itself, doesn’t allow them to search you. For that, they must have an objective indication that you may be armed and dangerous. And when the cops do search you, they can only pat your outer clothing for weapons.

Today a federal judge found that New York police officers have for years systematically stopped and frisked innocent people, particularly minorities. In her ruling, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin appointed a lawyer to monitor the New York Police Department’s practices going forward and ordered several other remedies, including a pilot program whereby officers will wear cameras in order to record civilian encounters. Scheindlin’s ruling puts an ostensible end to the NYPD’s racially driven method of detaining and searching people who, by and large, are simply minding their own business. (Mayor Michael Bloomberg vows that the city will appeal the ruling.)

Those upset with the ruling because it impedes supposedly effective police practices should take their argument up with the Constitution: The Fourth Amendment forbids unreasonable searches and seizures, while the 14th Amendment provides that all citizens are entitled to equal protection of the law. Scheindlin’s findings that about 88 percent of detainees were African American or Hispanic, and that nearly 90 percent of stop-and-frisks ended without arrest or citation, prove that this ruling was long overdue.

Update: A federal appeals court halted Judge Scheindlin's ruling due to her alleged partiality. To read more, see Stopping the Stop-and-Frisk Ruling.