Why ‘Stop and Frisk’ Was Ruled Unconstitutional

The Rev. Al Sharpton, center, walks with demonstrators during a silent march to end the "stop-and-frisk" program in New York, Sunday, June 17, 2012.
National Journal
Brian Resnick
Add to Briefcase
Brian Resnick
Aug. 12, 2013, 7:56 a.m.

A U.S. Dis­trict Court judge has ruled that New York’s con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice of “stop and frisk” is un­con­sti­tu­tion­al, on grounds that it un­fairly singles out ra­cial groups.

The policy al­lows po­lice of­ficers to stop, ques­tion, and pos­sibly search a per­son if the of­ficer has sus­pi­cions that per­son has or may com­mit a crime. The policy was in­voked 4.4 mil­lion times between 2004 and 2012, ac­cord­ing to the judge’s rul­ing. And it has been ef­fect­ive. The At­lantic re­cently re­por­ted that “in 2011, 770 guns were re­covered across New York dur­ing frisks. That amounts to a 30 per­cent in­crease over 2003, when 594 guns were re­covered.”

But here’s what has raised eye­brows, and promp­ted the lit­ig­a­tion: In that 2004-2012 time frame, 80 per­cent of those stopped in New York City were black or His­pan­ic. In 2010, blacks and His­pan­ics made up about 50 per­cent of the city’s pop­u­la­tion. 

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Shira Scheind­lin put it in no un­clear terms as to why the pro­gram should be ree­valu­ated. Re­gard­less of how well the policy works, she wrote in an opin­ion Monday, it vi­ol­ates con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­tec­tions. The de­cision, in all, is 195 pages long, but the fol­low­ing pas­sage sums up the sen­ti­ment:

It is im­port­ant to re­cog­nize the hu­man toll of un­con­sti­tu­tion­al stops. While it is true that any one stop is a lim­ited in­tru­sion in dur­a­tion and depriva­tion of liberty, each stop is also a de­mean­ing and hu­mi­li­at­ing ex­per­i­ence. No one should live in fear of be­ing stopped whenev­er he leaves his home to go about the activ­it­ies of daily life. Those who are routinely sub­jec­ted to stops are over­whelm­ingly people of col­or, and they are jus­ti­fi­ably troubled to be singled out when many of them have done noth­ing to at­tract the un­wanted at­ten­tion. Some plaintiffs test­i­fied that stops make them feel un­wel­come in some parts of the city, and dis­trust­ful of the po­lice. This ali­en­a­tion can­not be good for the po­lice, the com­munity, or its lead­er. Fos­ter­ing trust and con­fid­ence between the po­lice and the com­munity would be an im­prove­ment for every­one.

In Ju­ly, New York Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Ray Kelly took to the Wall Street Journ­al op-ed pages to de­fend the pro­gram, point­ing to how murders are down 29 per­cent over last year, which had the low­est rates in half a cen­tury. He called the ra­cial-pro­fil­ing charges against the po­lice force “disin­genu­ous,” cit­ing how the re­duc­tion in crime has the greatest pos­it­ive im­pact on minor­ity com­munit­ies.

But Scheind­lin didn’t care that the pro­gram was ef­fect­ive. After all, she reasoned, it would be a lot easi­er to cap­ture crim­in­als if po­lice routinely re­sor­ted to il­leg­al means.

I em­phas­ize at the out­set, as I have throughout the lit­ig­a­tion, that this case is not about the ef­fect­ive­ness of stop and frisk in de­ter­ring or com­bat­ing crime. 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 — pre­vent­at­ive de­ten­tion or co­erced con­fes­sions, for ex­ample — but be­cause they are un­con­sti­tu­tion­al they can­not be used, no mat­ter how ef­fect­ive.

Along with the rul­ing came some “rem­ed­ies” for what ails stop and frisk. Scheind­lin ordered a pi­lot pro­gram for of­ficers to wear cam­er­as to mon­it­or their in­ter­ac­tions with oth­ers, and com­munity meet­ings centered around re­forms.

May­or Mi­chael Bloomberg

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
2 days ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
2 days ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login