A federal judge struck down the New York Police Department's highly contentious stop-and-frisk policy Monday, prompting an allegation of bias and the promise of an appeal by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Civil liberties advocates hailed the 195-page ruling, which asserts that the NYPD had turned a "blind eye" toward the constitutional implications of its long-running strategy of proactively stopping and searching city residents who were often black or Latino.
"The goal of deterring crime is laudable, but this method of doing so is unconstitutional," U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin wrote in her ruling on a class-action lawsuit, noting that in 98.5% of 2.3 million frisks, "no weapon was found," and that blacks were 30% more likely than whites to get arrested for the same suspected crime.
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The policy wasn't just the product of a runaway police department, Scheindlin noted, adding that "the City acted with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD's practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks."
As part of the ruling, Scheindlin said she would appoint an independent monitor to oversee the department's reformation of its stop-and-frisk policies, as well as a trial program for some officers to wear body cameras as a transparency measure.
The class-action lawsuit began with four men who sued the department in 2004, saying they were targeted by police because of their race. Scheindlin issued her ruling after a 10-week bench trial that included 11 people testifying they had been unfairly stopped.
In many ways, Bloomberg has been far from indifferent about the stop-and-frisk policy, which he has steadfastly defended despite extensive criticism from civil libertarians and city minority groups, and which Bloomberg continued to defend after the ruling Monday.
"This is a very dangerous decision made by a judge who I don’t think understands how policing works," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg added, "Nowhere in her 195-page decision does [Scheindlin] mention the historic cuts in crime or the hundreds of lives that have been saved."
Actually, Scheindlin does mention the city's falling crime rate on page 61 of her ruling: She notes a 1999 New York Attorney General Report observing that "despite a decade of falling crime rates, 'the climate in many of New York's minority neighborhoods ... was one of resentment and distrust of the NYPD.'"
New York's long transformation from a crime-ridden metropolis to one of the nation's safest cities has been exemplary but hardly exceptional across the U.S., where cities have seen long-running declines in violent crime for reasons that experts have yet to agree upon.
In New York, at least among the city's officials, the prevailing narrative of this decline has placed the cause squarely on the shoulders of the NYPD's aggressive, statistic-driven policing policies, which include stop-and-frisk searches.
Following that trend, Bloomberg's news conference in response to Monday's ruling could have served as a case study of the no-apologies decisionmaking that has defined his 12-year term leading the city.
“Our crime strategies and tools -- including stop, question, frisk -- have made New York the safest big city in America," Bloomberg said.
"We go to where the reports of crime are," he added. "Those, unfortunately, happen to be poor neighborhoods, or minority neighborhoods.... There are always people that are afraid of police ... some of them come from cultures where police are the enemy. Here, the police department are our friends.”
If there's been a public pitfall in this argument -- which Bloomberg paternalistically framed as a measure to save minority members' lives -- it's that minority community members strongly oppose stop and frisk.
According to a Quinnipiac poll taken in April, black respondents overwhelmingly opposed stop-and-frisk, 72% to 24%, with Latinos also opposing it, 58% to 36%. (Those groups have slightly higher approval ratings for the NYPD itself, according to that poll.) When a reporter quizzed Bloomberg on this discrepancy Monday, he brushed away the criticism.
“The public are not experts at policing," Bloomberg said. "Personally, I would rather have [Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly decide how to keep my family safe, rather than having somebody on the street who says, 'Oh, I don’t like this.'"
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which opposes the city's policy, hailed the ruling Monday and, in a statement, encouraged the city "to stop denying the problem and work with the community to fix it."
There may be some time before critics see that happen: On Monday, Bloomberg said he'd appeal and seek a stay from a court of appeals to prevent the ruling from taking effect.“The judge clearly telegraphed her intentions, and she conveyed a disturbing disregard for the intentions of our police officers, who form the most diverse police department in the nation," Bloomberg said. “We didn’t believe we got a fair trial."
He added, ”Crime can come back any time. The criminals think they’re going to get away with things. We just cannot let that happen.”