Justice Department steps into NYC stop-and-frisk lawsuit

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON Thu Jun 13, 2013 3:16pm EDT

Related Topics

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department asked a federal judge to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the New York Police Department if she rules the department's stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin presided at a 10-week civil trial over the New York police practice of stopping people suspected of unlawful activity and frisking those suspected of carrying weapons.

Critics of the policy say it targets minorities and violates their Fourth Amendment rights for protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Scheindlin is expected to issue her ruling in the coming weeks. Her decision could dramatically affect police practices, people living in high-crime areas, and some of the city's most visible officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is running to succeed Bloomberg when his third term ends this year.

The lawsuit was filed in 2008 by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of four black men who said they were stopped based on their race.

Justice Department officials, in court papers filed late on Wednesday, said the federal government "takes no position" on the facts of the case, and only seeks the appointment of a monitor if Scheindlin "should find that the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices are unlawful."

Bloomberg said on Thursday that appointing a monitor was "a terrible idea."

"It just makes no sense whatsoever when lives are on the line to change the rules and hamper the police department from doing their job," He said at a press conference in Queens. "They comply with the law. We are 100 percent confident in that."

Bloomberg has consistently defended stop-and-frisk and has rejected suggestions that the NYPD needs independent oversight, just as his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, had before him. Kelly has called stop-and-frisk the cornerstone of successful policing that has driven crime rates to historic lows.

Other major U.S. police departments have come under independent oversight in recent years as a result of federal lawsuits, including Seattle and New Orleans.

The Justice Department, in its court filing, defended the idea of independent oversight, saying "reform through a court-ordered process improves public confidence, makes officers' jobs safer, and increases the ability of the department to fight crime."

The debate over stop-and-frisk became a focal point for NYPD critics last May after the New York Civil Liberties Union released statistics showing police stops have risen sharply during Bloomberg's administration - from 160,851 in 2003 to 685,724 in 2011. About half of the 2011 stops resulted in physical searches.

The analysis also concluded that the policy disproportionately targets minorities, and noted that in 2011, NYPD records showed police conducted more stops of black males between the ages of 14 and 24 than the total number of young black males living in New York City. Just 1.8 percent of searches of minority suspects that year resulted in weapons seizures.

Kelly has said the practice saves minority lives. In 2011, 96 percent of shooting victims and 90 percent of homicide victims were minorities.

The practice is also at the heart of the department's campaign to rid city streets of illegal guns, an issue that Bloomberg has spearheaded nationally through his gun control coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

The issue has animated the mayoral race. Quinn has championed Kelly's role as police commissioner and said she would ask him to stay on if she becomes mayor next year.

She also has expressed support for a pending City Council bill that could separately create independent oversight of the police department, a move that puts the front-runner candidate at odds with Bloomberg.

Peter Vallone Jr, head of the City Council Public Safety Committee, said imposing any sort of oversight over the police department could make Kelly - who polls highest among New York City public officials - think twice about remaining in office under a new mayor,

"If Ray Kelly decided to stay on, it would be as police commissioner, not to be the deputy monitor of the police department," Vallone said.

(Editing by Scott Malone and John Wallace)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
AZWarrior wrote:
How on earth is this not an illegal search? Where is the probable cause, and where is the search warrent? I can’t believe that any American city would tolerate this.

Jun 13, 2013 3:59pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
totherepublic wrote:
AZWarrior

This is how idiotic the libs are getting..blue against blue’s blue.

And when Mueller was asked who is heading up the FBI investigaton of the IRS scandal/cover up? “I have not been briefed on that-I don’t know”…3 weeks into to the promised investigation from obama and the Director Of The FBI does not even know who is in charge. That is just plain BAD!

There is no Justice under the obama administration. We need a change if there is any hope at all.

Jun 13, 2013 4:23pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
onemind wrote:
Stop and Frisk is a constitutionally approved limited search approved by the US Supreme Court. It requires probable cause and is limited to a pat down of exxterior clothing. A further search is only permissible if the limited pat down reveals evidence of a weapon. It has been ruled to be reasonable due to the requirement of reasonable cause, it’s limited search and the nature of the threat of harm from a concealed weapon. Like it or not, NYC has an amazing low crime rate, primarily due to this aggressive tactic. Chicago does not and is a good contrast to NYC.

Jun 13, 2013 4:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.