NYPD told to halt suspicion-less Bronx stops
NEW YORK — The New York Police Department likely turned a blind eye to violations of the constitutional rights of thousands of individuals detained at private residential buildings in the Bronx in a stop-and-frisk program that's under assault in the courts, a federal judge said Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said the department's “Operation Clean Halls” program — aimed at preventing illegal activity at buildings in high-crime areas — had apparently stopped people who were merely entering or exiting buildings and not acting suspicious.
She ordered the department to develop and adopt a written policy describing limited circumstances when a person on a suspicion of trespass can be stopped and to revise its training materials and training programs to conform with the law, though she suspended the effect of these orders until the city can challenge them legally in coming weeks.
Scheindlin said the plaintiffs who presented evidence at a fall hearing had shown a clear likelihood of proving the city had shown deliberate indifference toward a widespread practice of unconstitutional trespass stops by police outside the buildings.
“While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops” outside Bronx buildings, she said.
Scheindlin said she was not ordering the abolition or even a reduction of the program because it appears to be a valuable way to use police resources to enhance security in private buildings.
But police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the ruling “unnecessarily interferes with the department's efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep Clean Halls buildings safe and secure.”
City Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo said there was no basis for federal court intervention and that remedial steps the judge proposed would place an unacceptable burden on the police department to adopt additional training, supervision, monitoring and reporting requirements.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called the ruling “a major step toward dismantling the NYPD's stop-and-frisk regime.” She said Operation Clean Halls “has placed New Yorkers, mostly black and Latinos, under siege in their own homes in thousands of apartment buildings.”
The rulings came in a lawsuit brought by black and Latino residents who said police have a widespread practice of making unlawful stops on suspicion of trespass outside Bronx buildings. The ruling is an interim order before a trial on the lawsuit. The judge said her remedial proposals will apply to another lawsuit that more broadly challenges stop-and-frisk practices.