New York police must stop making trespass stops outside certain privately owned Bronx apartment buildings without reasonable suspicion, a judge ordered Tuesday, saying the department crossed the line into unconstitutional practices.
Black and Latino residents have sued the city, claiming that police have a widespread practice of making unlawful stops on suspicion of trespass outside buildings in the Bronx that are part of a program that allows police officers to patrol inside and around private residential buildings. The ruling is an interim order before a trial on the lawsuit.
It is not enough for a police officer to have a non-specific suspicion or hunch about a person to perform a stop and frisk, said U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan. The plaintiffs have said the stops left them feeling violated, disrespected, angry and defenseless, she noted.
She said the plaintiffs who presented evidence at a hearing over several days in October and November had shown a clear likelihood of proving that the city had displayed deliberate indifference toward a widespread practice of unconstitutional trespass stops by the police department outside the private Bronx buildings.
"While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops" outside the Bronx buildings, she said.
"For those of us who do not fear being stopped as we approach or leave our own homes or those of our friends and families, it is difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat," she said. "In light of the evidence presented at the hearing, however, I am compelled to conclude that this is the case."
She said she was not ordering the abolition or even a reduction of the program that allows police to patrol the Bronx buildings because it appears to be a valuable way of using police resources to enhance security in private buildings.
She said further orders requiring the police department to rewrite its practices and supervision of stop and frisk will not have to be implemented until she conducts additional hearings in coming weeks.
The judge's order was welcomed in the Bronx apartment buildings that had taken part in the so-called Clean Halls program. Alicia Clyburn, a resident and grandmother, said police should have a legitimate reason to stop people.
"You see people walking the street, that doesn't mean you could stop them and frisk, especially if they're not doing nothing," she said. "If they're doing something that warrants you stop them, that's antoher story.
Rashad Conard applauded the judge's order, saying it's an important step to ensuring civil liberties.
"If you see nobody doing nothing, then why bother them?" said Conard. "Leave them alone, go find where the real criminals are."
Still, not everyone agreed with the ruling. Shenika Harden fears the order will put Bronx neighborhoods in danger.
"It's scary," she said. "If you don't have nothing on you, then you shouldn't mind getting stopped and frisked."
The case is one of three lawsuits challenging the police department's stop and frisk practices.
The case Scheindlin ruled on is the narrowest of the three. It deals with legal issues raised after the city first adopted a stop and frisk law in 1964 that allows police to stop, question and sometimes frisk people they think might be doing something criminal, even if officers' suspicions don't meet the probable-cause standard for an arrest.
The city did not immediately comment.