If a federal district court finds New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wants his agency to monitor the city police department. In a last-minute motion that left the city with little opportunity to respond, the Department of Justice disputes the city’s argument that a federal monitor is excessive, noting the federal government’s “strong interest in ensuring constitutional policing.”
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 seemed poised to invalidate New York’s stop-and-frisk program at least in part, as she concluded trial in the class action challenge by expressing alarm over the program’s “high error rate” and potential for racial profiling. An existing constitutional standard allows police to stop an individual when they have “reasonable suspicion” that they are committing a crime, and to subsequently frisk them if they have justification for doing so. The Department has conducted more than 5 million stops since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, more than 85 percent of which targeted blacks or Latinos and only 12 percent of which resulted in criminal charges. The Justice Department declined to weigh in on the constitutionality of this program, arguing only that a finding of unconstitutionality should prompt federal intervention.
According to a New York Daily News report, city officials expressed vehement objections when Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez called to notify them of their plan, saying there are sufficient internal NYPD oversight mechanisms. But the Department of Justice countered in its motion, “Officers can only police safely and effectively if they maintain the trust and cooperation of the communities within which they work, but the public’s trust and willingness to cooperate with the police are damaged when officers routinely fail to respect the rule of law.”