Skip to content Skip to footer

Judge Rules NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” Unconstitutional, Orders Federal Oversight

Sorry, this media item is no longer available or fails to load.
More at The Real News

Judge finds New York Police Department violates the rights of New Yorkers, as mayor Michael Bloomberg vows to fight ruling

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. In a historic ruling on Monday, federal judge Shira Scheindlin ruled the New York Police Department’s controversial practice of stop and frisk is unconstitutional. The NYPD has made over 5 million stops under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg over the past decade, with vast majorities of those stopped being black and Latino and also not ticketed or charged with a crime. The judge has appointed an independent federal monitor to oversee the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the judge’s decision and said he will appeal.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Throughout the trial that just concluded, the judge made it clear she was not at all interested in the crime reductions here or how we achieved them. In fact, nowhere in her 195-page decision does she mention the historic cuts in crime or the number of lives that have been saved. She ignored the real-world realities of crime, the fact that stops match up with crime statistics and the fact that our police officers on patrol, the majority of whom are black, Hispanic, or members of other ethnic or racial minorities, make an average about less than one stop a week.


Noor: Now joining us to talk about this decision and its implications is independent journalist Ryan Devereaux, who writes for The Nation, The Guardian, and Rolling Stone.

Thank you so much for joining us, Ryan.


Noor: So, Ryan, stop and frisk is an issue you’ve closely been following for several years now. You’ve written extensively about it. What’s your reaction to this case?

Devereaux: Well, first of all, it’s not a surprise. Most people who have been covering this trial closely, who have been covering litigation surrounding stop and frisk in New York City for the last few years, sort of expected this to come, given Judge Scheindlin’s record on dealing with Fourth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment cases regarding the NYPD. You know, most of us expected to see this. We expected to see the judge come down pretty hard on the police department, because the evidence that was presented in this case, by most accounts, was fairly overwhelming. You had, you know, dozens of people testifying, including a number of young men who were stopped by the police, as well as police officers who had secretly recorded conversations in their respective precincts that purported to show that the police department has a rigid sort of top-down quota structure that places a significant degree of pressure on police officers to make stops, to produce UF250s, which are the form that police officers have to fill out when they make a stop, and that they’re sort of graded on how well they do that, how frequently they make stops. And then, you know, senior-level officers get commendations, promotions, and that sort of thing if the guys under them are making stops. So it’s sort of a cycle. So, like I said, this isn’t a big surprise.

But it’s a 195-page decision that Judge Scheindlin wrote. And, I mean, it really doesn’t pull much punches in terms of her sort of analysis of what the NYPD has been responsible for over the last decade, which is, you know, stopping millions of people, hundreds of thousands, potentially unlawfully, and the vast majority of them being black and Latino, most of them young men, and the majority of whom have committed no crime, or at the very least in not receiving a ticket and not receiving a summons, not being arrested. And this has created, you know, some very serious divisions between communities of color in New York City and the police department. It’s led to very real concerns. I’ve done extensive reporting in a lot of these neighborhoods that are highly impacted by stop and frisk, and you get a sense, talking to the young men in those neighborhoods, talking to the parents in those neighborhoods, that being stopped by the police has become a sort of rite of passage in a lot of communities, and a disturbing right of passage. You know, you talk to guys who say that it started for them when they were 12, 13 years old and just continues on a fairly regular basis and as they’re growing up. And it doesn’t take much imagination to sort of think about what sort of psychological impact that can have on an individual and on a community on the whole.

Noor: Now, Ryan, I want to get your response from a statement that Ray Kelly, the NYPD police commissioner, made today in response to this verdict.


RAY KELLY, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: What I find most disturbing and offensive about this decision is the notion that the NYPD engages in racial profiling. That simply is recklessly untrue. We do not engage in racial profiling. It is prohibited by law. It is prohibited by our own regulations. We train our officers that they need reasonable suspicion to make a stop. And I can assure you that race is never a reason to conduct a stop.


Noor: So, Ryan, Ray Kelly went on to say that the NYPD goes to where the crimes are being committed. What’s your response to that, to those two statements? I know there was a recent report in WNYC where they actually documented that the vast majority of guns retrieved, which is another one of the justifications for stop and frisk, were actually not found in stop-and-frisk hotspots.

Devereaux: Right. So these sort of issues have a lot to do with the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony in this case, which they said proved that no matter where a person of color is in New York City, they are more likely to be stopped by police, even when all sorts of other conditions are controlled for, that the best predictor of who’s going to be stopped in New York City, regardless of what neighborhood they’re in, is determined by race. The best predictor as to who will be stopped in New York City, regardless of the area that they’re in, is race.

And the evidence that was used to make that claim was based on hundreds of thousands of NYPD forms, the NYPD’s own data indicating who they stopped, where they stopped, and why they stopped. And it’s important to keep in mind the most common—it’s a checkbox. It’s a series of boxes that a police officer checks off on these forms to describe why they believe they had reasonable suspicion to stop a person. And the most commonly checked off box there is furtive movement, which is this very sort of loosely defined term that police officers, including police officers who testified in this trial, can sort of make into whatever they want it to be. The city had an expert—not an expert witness. I’m sorry. One of their star witnesses was a police officer who in 2009 was one of the top stoppers in the police department, and he describes sort of what he thought furtive movement was, and he said things such as standing near a trashcan, standing near the entrance to a building. Things that people just do sort of in the course of day-to-day life can be checked off as furtive movement and used to justify stops.

Noor: And, Ryan, you know, in the trial, in your article in which you detail the trial very extensively for The Guardian, it wasn’t just the victims of stop-and-frisk that testified. There were several current police officers, as well as retired police officers, that testified that a quota system existed and that tremendous pressure was placed on officers that didn’t comply with getting these numbers of stop and frisks every week. Talk about their testimony and the impact it might have had on the judge in the trial.

Devereaux: Yeah. So there was evidence presented from three police officers in the trial, whistleblower cops, if you will, who had secretly recorded conversations at their precincts—one in Brooklyn, two in the Bronx. And these police officers—I should backtrack a little bit.

In 2010, a police officer in Brooklyn by the name of Adrian Schoolcraft recorded over a 100 hours of tape at his Bedford-Stuyvesant precinct that, you know, was senior-level officers telling the rank and file that they basically needed to go out and produce activity. They needed to go out and make stops. And if they didn’t, they were going to be held accountable for it, they were going to be in trouble, because these senior officers were going to be in trouble if they couldn’t show their bosses that the guys underneath of them were making stops.

So what was really interesting in this trial, the most recent stop-and-frisk trial, were these two officers who took the stand, both from the Bronx, from neighboring precincts, who began recording evidence in their precincts a couple of years back that seem to suggest the same sort of practices occurring up there. One of these officers, Pedro Serrano, produced a tape for the court in which his supervising officer instructed him to stop black males ages 14, 20 to 21 in a given area of the Bronx because it was a so-called high-crime area. And Pedro Serrano, a Puerto Rican police officer who grew up in New York City, pushed back on that, basically making the argument that when a stop occurs, there are certain conditions that have to be met, meaning a police officer has to believe that a crime is about to happen, is in the middle of happening, or has just happened. So to say—for a boss cop to tell the rank and file that they need to just make stops of a certain group in a certain area, that contradicts the training that police officers receive.

And that kind of cuts to the heart of what this trial and what Judge Scheindlin’s decision underscored, which is that there’s a stark difference between the policies that the NYPD is supposed to be adhering to on the streets and the way policing is actually practiced. And that’s what this—that’s what the plaintiffs sought to prove, and that’s what Judge Scheindlin believes that they proved.

Noor: So, Ryan, does this ruling cast any more shadows on the fact that President Obama has suggested that Ray Kelly may be nominated to be the next head of the Department of Homeland Security? Along with being an architect of stop and frisk, he’s overseen the surveillance of the Muslim community in mosques and student groups around New York City.

Devereaux: There are certainly reasons to be concerned about that—obviously, the fact that today a federal judge determined that under his watch, his police department has been responsible for widespread, systemic constitutional rights violations, unlawful stops, and racial profiling, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations.

And then on top of that, as you mentioned, the surveillance of the Muslim community should be deeply concerning to people, because what it seems to suggest is that Commissioner Kelly doesn’t understand or chooses to ignore the differences between a municipal police department and the mandate of an intelligence agency. He seems to think that you can gloss over those differences. And if you look at some of the reporting surrounding the NYPD’s surveillance program, a couple of months back a memo was leaked, a CIA memo that was an investigation into the agency’s cooperation with the police department in forming its surveillance program, and the CIA said that the NYPD’s surveillance practices had really exacerbated tensions between the NYPD and the FBI because it seems that the NYPD wasn’t as well-practiced in doing this sort of intelligence-gathering stuff that they sought out to do.

And so for one to suggest that Ray Kelly is the best possible person to nominate for a position like head of DHS, I think that that should raise some real concerns. You know, Ray Kelly is a popular figure here in New York City among a lot of folks, but in a lot of other communities, in the communities that have been hit hard by stop and frisk, the results of his initiatives have hurt a lot of people, and they’ve sowed a lot of distrust in the community, and a lot of people don’t want to work with his department because of the way that they’re treated. So we should really think about whether or not someone who is responsible for sowing those sorts of seeds of distrust is who we want to elevate to a national sort of—national security—a senior-level position concerning national security.

Noor: Ryan Devereaux, thank you so much for joining us.

Devereaux: Thanks for having me, Jaisal.

Noor: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

We have hours left to raise $12,000 — we’re counting on your support!

For those who care about justice, liberation and even the very survival of our species, we must remember our power to take action.

We won’t pretend it’s the only thing you can or should do, but one small step is to pitch in to support Truthout — as one of the last remaining truly independent, nonprofit, reader-funded news platforms, your gift will help keep the facts flowing freely.