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Stop Frisking Me

Nearly three weeks ago, a federal judge handed down a one-hundred and ninety-eight page ruling regarding a “stop-and-frisk” policy adopted by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and concluded it violated the constitutional rights of minorities. The class-action suit alleged violations of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, violations of unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and others civil penalties.  The lengthy decision found that the City of New York, and its agent, the New York Police Department (NYPD), consistently targeted minorities and illegally stopped them, as opposed to their white counterparts. The decision concluded that the NYPD subjected minorities to unreasonable scrutiny and invasion of privacy.

Judge Scheindlin delivered the opinion of the Court. She relied on and revealed several statistics that were vital before concluding that the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy (herein “the program”) violated the United States Constitution’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.  She recounted that over the course of an eight-year period, the NYPD conducted over 4.4 million stops in the City of New York.  These statistics revealed that just over 80% of those stopped were blacks or Hispanics. Judge Scheindlin further found that at least 200,000 of those stops were made without any reasonable suspicion whatsoever.  The Judge determined this based on the fact that NYPD officers were required to complete and turn in a UF 250 form after an encounter, stop, arrest, search or otherwise incident with a citizen.  The form included pre-printed check boxes that corresponded to reasons for the citizen’s stop. Additionally, there was a tiny area on the form that allowed the officer to write two or three words about why the citizen was stopped, if no reason on the pre-printed form applied.

Based on the UF250 forms retrieved from the NYPD database, the Judge relayed that only a mere 6% of those stopped were arrested and charged with a crime.  Other facts and numbers tell the found that only 0.1% of those seized were charged with possessing a firearm. Even more interesting was the fact that 1.8% of citizens stopped had any sort of illegal contraband on them.

The UF250 form’s included pre-printed reasons for the stop, including: fits description; suspicious bulge; carrying objects in plain view; acting as a lookout; actions indicative of “casing;” actions relating to drug transaction and wearing clothes or disguises commonly used in crimes.  Although this list was non-exhaustive (because you can write your reason in a small area below the boxes), Judge Scheindlin outlined two particular grounds that NYPD officers seemed to mark the most. The first was “furtive movements”, and the second was “high-crime area.”

“Furtive movements” and “high crime area” were the two suspicions most commonly cited as the basis for the stop approximately 42% of the time and 55% of the time, respectively.  More surprisingly, NYPD offers revealed a complete lack of training and understanding as to what a “furtive movement” was.  Based on several officers testimony at trial, apparent “furtive movement” can be any one of the following, including: changing direction; walking in certain way; going in and out of a location; digging in your pockets; looking back and forth in certain directions; looking over your shoulder; adjusting your belt; stuttering; hanging out in front of a building; sitting on a bench, then making a quick movement and all of the sudden becoming aware of the situation around you. The judge noted in her opinion, “…[i]f the officer believes that the above constitutes furtive movements, then it is no surprise that stops so rarely produce evidence of criminal activity.”

Lastly, in reaching her conclusion, the Judge scoured over testimony from 12 plaintiffs concerning 19 different stops.  From the plaintiff’s testimony, statistics and evidence showed that from 2004 to 2009 blacks were arrested 30% more, as opposed to receiving a summons, than whites were for the same suspected crime. Thus allowing the Judge to conclude that minorities were treated differently than whites in similar, if not exactly the same, situations when the subject of a “stop and frisk”.  Despite the fact that whites are more often found with contraband or guns, the Judge was able to conclude that whites were not subjected to as much force as minorities. In her final note, Judge Scheildlin concluded her opinion, “[t]he idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what American find abhorrent and what black men in America must constantly fight.  It is pervasive in policing policies — like stop-and-frisk, and . . . neighborhood watch – regardless of the collateral damage done to the majority of innocents. It’s like burning down a house to rid it of mice.”

The NYPD’s program is still in use today. However, Judge Scheindlin ordered select NYPD officers wear body cameras and ordered a federal monitor of the NYPD’s program. The case still remains entangled in the appellate process and will remain there for awhile.  The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, accused the judge of not allowing a fair trial and has made it known publicly that nothing will change overnight with regard to the “stop and frisk” program.

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[sc:Mike]

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