Judge Closes Stop-And-Frisk Trial With A Whole Lot Of Skepticism

After months of evidence from more than 100 witnesses suggesting the New York Police Department sets quotas on the number of stop-and-frisks, instructs officers to target black men, and taunts young teens, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin ended the trial by expressing considerable alarm about the “high error rate” of the controversial stop-and-frisk program, and questioned whether police racially profile. The New York Times reports:

“A lot of people are being frisked or searched on suspicion of having a gun and nobody has a gun,” Judge Scheindlin, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said on Monday during closing arguments in the trial. “So the point is: the suspicion turns out to be wrong in most of the cases.” […]

Observing that only about 12 percent of police stops resulted in an arrest or summons, Judge Scheindlin, who is hearing the case without a jury, focused her remarks on Monday on the other 88 percent of stops, in which the police did not find evidence of criminality after a stop. She characterized that as “a high error rate” and remarked to a lawyer representing the city, “You reasonably suspect something and you’re wrong 90 percent of the time.”

“That is a lot of misjudgment of suspicion,” Judge Scheindlin said, suggesting officers were wrongly interpreting innocent behavior as suspicious.

Scheindlin was referring to the constitutional standard — “reasonable suspicion” —  required for a police stop. She also questioned whether NYPD officers who make the “worrisome” argument that a higher stop and frisk rate among blacks and Hispanics mirrors higher crime rates in those populations are therefore using race as a basis for making otherwise inexplicable stops.

Plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit now underway allege an expansive and racist use of police stops has been applied without legal justification, subjecting vast swaths of the city’s young African American and Hispanic men to invasive frisks, unwarranted searches, and detention at police centers for alleged minor crimes, often marijuana possession. Scheindlin has already ruled in another stop-and-frisk case that police stops in the Bronx are likely unconstitutional.

The aggressive stop-and-frisk program has been justified as reducing crime, but new figures show that the crime rate went down with a drop in the number of stop-and-frisks under public pressure.