NY Police Stop and Frisk Methods: Unconstitutional

What is Stop and Frisk?

Of late, there has been much discussion revolving around NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stop and frisk policy.  What is stop and frisk?  Stop and frisk involves a brief, non-intrusive, police stop of a suspect.  The Fourth Amendment requires that the police have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed before stopping a suspect.  If the police reasonably suspect the person is armed and dangerous, they may conduct a frisk, a quick pat-down of the person’s outer clothing.   See Terry v Ohio, 392 US 1, (1967).  Since this Supreme Court ruling, stop and frisk has been implemented and used in every town and city in the United States.  So why has a Judge ruled NY’s stop and frisk method unconstitutional?

What makes NY’s Method Unconstitutional?

In a 195-page opinion, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that NYPD tactics violated person’s individual rights and amounted to racial profiling.  She also criticized the Mayor and his administration for being “deliberately indifferent” to the techniques used by police officers.  Judge Scheindlin was clearly speaking of Mayor Michael Bloomberg when she concluded: “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 singling out “the right people” is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution.”

Again, it should be noted that stop and frisk is not unconstitutional when carried out correctly.  A NY Times article recognizes, “The judge made clear that she was not striking down the program — which remains an important tool for law enforcement — but requiring the city to use that tool in a way that does not discriminate against African-Americans and Hispanics and that comports with constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure. Given the city’s refusal to alter its practices significantly, Judge Scheindlin had little choice but to appoint an outside monitor to oversee sweeping changes in how the New York Police Department trains its officers and carries out the stop-and-frisk policy.”

The judge found that the New York police were too quick to deem suspicious behavior that was perfectly innocent, in effect watering down the legal standard required for a stop. “Blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites,” she wrote.  She noted that officers routinely stopped people partly on the basis of “furtive movements,” a category that officers have testified might encompass any of the following: being fidgety, changing directions, walking in a certain way, grabbing at a pocket or looking over one’s shoulder.


Judge Scheindlin has instituted a pilot program that will promulgate rules and regulations, as well as providing oversight to said rules and regulations that will be in accord with 4th Amendment protections.  In charge of the pilot program is outside attorney, Peter Zimroth.  Mr. Zimroth is an attorney at the prestigious firm of Arnold & Porter.

We will continue to monitor the NY stop and frisk controversy.  Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the decision and accused Judge Scheindlin of not affording the city a “fair trial.”  New York’s stop and frisk may serve as a watermark for other cities, including Chicago, in determining the limits of the 4th Amendment in regard to stop and frisks.

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