NEW YORK Jan 8 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday ordered the New York Police Department to immediately stop conducting trespass stops outside certain buildings in the borough of the Bronx without "reasonable suspicion" that an individual is engaged in criminal activity.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan issued her ruling in the narrowest of three main lawsuits challenging New York City's controversial "stop and frisk" policy.
The NYPD and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have defended the program, in which police stop and question people they suspect of unlawful activity and frisk those they suspect are carrying weapons. The NYPD and the mayor argue it has reduced crime.
The plaintiffs in the case are black and Latino residents. The police deny that race or quotas motivate stops.
Scheindlin, who heard testimony in the case late last year, said in her ruling on Tuesday that it "is difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat" of being stopped as they leave their homes.
"In light of the evidence presented at the hearing, however, I am compelled to conclude that this is the case," she wrote.
Scheindlin also said her ruling was limited, "directed squarely at a category of stops lacking reasonable suspicion."
Spokespeople for the city and the police department had no immediate comment.
"With today's ruling, the federal court has stated loudly and clearly that a major part of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program is unconstitutional and that the time has come for the courts to order a halt to illegal stops," Christopher Dunn, associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
In the 157-page ruling, the judge proposed new requirements for the NYPD to develop a formal written policy on the limited instances it would be allowed to stop a person outside privately owned, mostly low-income housing buildings in the Bronx that opt into a voluntary policing program.
The judge also proposed ordering the city to revise its training materials and programs for police officers.