Posted on August 26, 2013, by Brandon Crawford

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A federal judge ruled that the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy violated constitutional protections.

Anyone who has endured the experience of a pat down at the hands of a law enforcement officer knows just how humiliating the ordeal can be. After reviewing more than 2 million such encounters conducted by the NYPD, a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of NYPD’s stop and frisk policies.

The plaintiffs argued that the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk violated their constitutional rights in two ways: (1) the stops lacked a sufficient legal basis in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and (2) the stops targeted specific races in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The trial, which lasted nine weeks, included testimony concerning nineteen individual stops as well as expert testimony and analysis of more than 4 million UF-250 forms from NYPD’s database.

Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD made 4.4 million Terry stops. 52% of these stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons. A colossal 1.5% of these shake downs actually produced a weapon. 6% of all stops resulted in an arrest, and 6% resulted in a summons. In other words, 88% of the 4.4 million stops resulted in no further law enforcement action (i.e., neither an arrest nor a summons).

Officers are required to prepare a UF-250 (also known as a “Stop, Question, and Frisk Report Worksheet”) after every Terry stop. Analysis of the one-sided UF-250s revealed that officers conducted at least 200,000 stops without reasonable suspicion. All the usual suspects appeared in the forms: anonymous tips, generic bulges, and presence in an area of expected criminal activity.

Judge Scheindlin pulled no punches in finding the City liable for violating plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights:

The City acted with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD’s practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks. . . . I also conclude that the City’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner. In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting “the right people” is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution. . . . The goal of deterring crime is laudable, but this method of doing so is unconstitutional.

You can read the full 198-page opinion here.

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