Illegal searches routine in NY

In the course of certifying a class action, a federal judge in New York has made some devastating remarks about the NYPD's massive Stop and Frisk program, which has prompted hundreds of thousands of street searches that almost always target blacks and Hispanics. It's an important ruling with ramifications for law enforcement across the country."Suspicionless stops should never occur," Judge Shira A. Scheindlin wrote. "Defendants' cavalier attitude toward the prospect of a `widespread practice of suspicionless stops' displays a deeply troubling apathy toward New Yorkers' most fundamental constitutional rights."In her ruling, the judge outlines how the NYPD has used its much-praised and often-copied CompStat system for tracking crime reports to set "performance goals" for the number of searches each precinct should do. Commanding officers are assailed by their superiors in police headquarters if the number of searches drops. Ultimately, police officers are evaluated in part for the number of searches they conduct on the street. Some have reported being threatened with loss of overtime or transfer to a lesser post. One officer taped his supervisor ordering wholesale illegal searches.Police are required to document each stop but, according to the judge, in at least 170,000 cases the report failed to establish even a superficial basis for the search. In 4,000 cases, the official reason given for a search was "high crime area." In more than half a million stops, the judge said, "officers listed no coherent suspected crime."That is, dehumanizing violations of the Fourth Amendment are routine in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's New York.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

Please email comments to letters@commonwealmagazine.org and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Politics
Culture
Culture
Books
Books
Collections