According to The New York Times, a federal judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, has expressed concern over the legitimacy of routine stop-and-frisk searches, conducted by the New York Police Department. These measures were described as a violation of the constitutional liberties of the citizens of New York City.
On Monday, the judge offered her ruling, which calls into question the dubious practice of performing stop-and-frisk searches on individuals, without any suspicion of wrongdoing. The judge’s 195-page report suggested that minority males sex seemed to be targeted preferentially. These individuals were often frisked, without objective reasoning, for weapons, illicit drugs and other illegal material, prior to their release.
The judge has demonstrated her resolve to address these constitutional violations, assigning an impartial lawyer to oversee future developments within the police department and guarantee their adherence in correcting this improper culture of spot checking innocent New Yorkers.
This role will fall under the jurisdiction of Mr. Peter L. Zimroth, of Arnold & Porter LLP. Mr. Zimroth is a trial lawyer and appellate advocate and, according to his partner profile, remains a top litigator in “… products liability, commercial, securities, and white collar crime matters.” In one of his former roles, he was corporation counsel for the City of New York, which was involved in “… the city’s legal business, and [heading] the city’s law department of more than 500 lawyers.” He was also involved in conducting prosecutions for the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
In the case of Floyd v. City of New York, plaintiff’s were seeking justice for inappropriate use of the stop-and-frisk searches, arguing that the Fourth Amendment had been broken, as well as a section of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was, therefore, argued that their basic constitutional rights had been violated.
According to The New Yorker, one of the Plaintiff’s, a Mr. David Ourlicht, described the worrisome thoughts that he contends with, during a press conference before the trial was due to commence:
“I don’t [want to] have to walk outside and have that thought in the back of my mind: ‘This time will they shoot me or will I get beat up? Will I go to jail for something I didn’t do?’ I want to be able to move on and not have to feel that. I don’t want my friends to have to feel that anymore.”
During the proceedings, Judge Scheindlin listened to statistical data presented by experts, who had analyzed police paperwork on almost four and a half million stop-and-frisk searches. These hard facts were then supported by testimonies from a number of ethnic males, and a woman, who had experienced the measures first-hand.
As was to be expected, workers of the police force have previously defended the practice of stop-and-frisk searches. The statistics suggest that the stops were discriminatory in nature, affecting a large number of minorities. In spite of this, the city claims that these allegations of discrimination are invalid, as they consider there is little “disparate impact” upon minority neighborhoods.
However, the judge ruled that police officials often lacked reasonable grounds to perform stop-and-frisk searches. Others have also suggested that the police’s report worksheet is not being implemented suitably and is simply a means of circumventing proper police procedure. This opinion is, somewhat, substantiated by Scheindlin, who criticized the police for being too quick to label many New York civilians’ behavior as suspicious. The credibility of the police force’s stance took a further beating, as Judge Scheindlin heard that 88 percent of stops failed to acquire evidence of criminality. She responded to this information:
“You reasonably suspect something and you’re wrong 90 percent of the time… That is a lot of misjudgment of suspicion.”
The New York Times has indicated that a significant majority of those stopped were either black or Hispanic, reaching 85 percent for “most years”. The city has repeated its assertion that these stop and search policies merely reflect the perceived pattern in criminal activity, which they consider to differ between ethnic groups. In response, the Judge reflected over this “worrisome” point, suggesting it could lead to police officers targeting particular groups, simply based upon ethnicity.
However this information is deemed, the implications of today’s report are very significant, and will likely lead to a more stringent, objective policy for conducting stop-and-frisk searches. Hopefully, this will be one that does not violate the constitutional rights of the people of New York.
By: James Fenner