NYC Police Stop-and-Frisk Policies Face Racial Bias Trial
By Bob Van Voris - Mar 18, 2013 12:01 AM ET
Four New York men who were questioned or patted down by police are seeking a halt to a city “stop and frisk” policy that they say unlawfully targets people on the basis of race.
David Floyd, Lalit Clarkson, Deon Dennis and David Ourlicht, four black men who claimed they were stopped and questioned or frisked by New York police without reasonable suspicion, are set to begin trial today in Manhattan federal court of their claim that officers routinely violate the rights of black and Latino New Yorkers.
“At stake are the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have been illegally stopped,” said Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the organization that filed the suit. “These are people who are living under a state of siege in their own neighborhoods.”
Floyd and the others claim the New York City Police Department has a widespread, illegal practice of stopping people in the street that disproportionately targets black and Latino New Yorkers. They claim the department fails to train officers in proper procedures and imposes quotas that encourage illegal stops.
The city denies that its policies are illegal.
“All of the NYPD’s policing practices — including making arrests, conducting investigations and detaining and questioning people who act suspiciously — are directed at preventing crime and promoting public safety citywide,” Celeste Koeleveld, a lawyer in the New York City Law Department, which is defending the city in the trial, said in a statement.
Police are generally barred by law from stopping, questioning or frisking someone in the street without some level of reasonable, individualized suspicion. The men say police have made more than 4 million stops and frisks in the past nine years. Of those stopped, 80 percent were black or Latino, according to court papers.
The four men represent New Yorkers who have been illegally stopped or frisked by city police since January 2005. They’re seeking an order from U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who is trying the case without a jury, barring the practice and ordering changes to the department’s policies. They’re also asking that Scheindlin appoint a monitor to ensure the department complies with any orders she makes.
In ruling last year that the men may represent a citywide class of people illegally stopped by police, Scheindlin criticized the department’s “cavalier” attitude toward a “widespread practice of suspicionless stops,” saying it shows a “deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”
Koeleveld said police focus their attention in neighborhoods with high crime rates, where racial minorities make up most of the crime victims.
“Police officers must be able to stop and question people who act suspiciously in order to do their jobs,” Koeleveld said in the statement.
On their list of more than 100 witnesses, the Floyd plaintiffs have included dozens of current and former police officers and people who allegedly observed illegal stops.
The plaintiffs will present testimony from experts including Jeffrey Fagan, a professor of law and public health at Columbia University, who will discuss his statistical analysis of police stop-and-frisk data for 2003 through the first half of 2012.
They said they will also present experts on police practices and remedial measures necessary to curb illegal stops. The plaintiffs estimate they’ll need as many as 30 trial days to present their evidence.
The city said it has a political scientist, Dennis Smith, and a finance professor, Robert Purtell, to counter Fagan. The city said it may take an additional five days to mount a defense.
The Floyd case is one of three federal court challenges to the department’s “stop and frisk” practices. In Ligon v. City of New York, Scheindlin in January ordered that police cease making suspicionless “trespass” stops outside privately owned buildings in the borough of the Bronx. She suspended that order while the city appeals. Davis v. City of New York, also in Scheindlin’s court, challenges police stops in public housing.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police must have “reasonable suspicion” that crime is afoot to justify such stops. New York state appeals courts last year threw out at least two convictions of teenagers who were found with guns in stop-and-frisk searches.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said in a statement last week that police made 97,296 street stops in 2002, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first year in office. The number grew to 685,724 in 2011, the group said. The police made 533,042 stops last year, according to the NYCLU. Of the stops last year, 89 percent resulted in no arrest or ticket, the group said.
The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company ofBloomberg News.
The case is Floyd v. City of New York, 08-cv-0134, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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