A federal judge ruled last week that the New York Police Department's policy of indiscriminately stopping and frisking men of color is unconstitutional. Although the decision applies only to New York for now, it could affect police forces across the country.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin did not ban stop-and-frisk in New York, but ordered a federal monitor to oversee the practice. She said, "The NYPD implements its policies regarding stop-and-frisk in a manner that intentionally discriminates based on race," thus violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution's 14th Amendment.
The practice, which was stepped up under Mayor Michael Bloomberg (684,330 men were stopped in 2011), has been controversial because large numbers of blacks and Hispanics are involved in the stops. Half of those detained by police are usually only questioned, but others have their backpacks searched or are given pat-downs.
The judge noted that 88 percent of the stops in New York result in police letting the person go without an arrest or ticket. That percentage is so high, she suggested, that there was not enough reason to suspect the person of criminal activity. In other words, no probable cause. That, she said, violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by government.
Mr. Bloomberg, however, believes the policy has cut crime dramatically in New York and said his administration will appeal.
The Supreme Court has ruled that stop-and-frisks are constitutionally permissible under certain conditions. But for at least one federal judge, these conditions do not include the absolute right to search anyone who is merely thought to look suspicious.