A federal judge told a lawyer for New York City she was troubled by the number of stops police made that failed to result in arrests, summonses or seizure of illegal weapons.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan yesterday asked the lawyer about data showing that 90 percent of people stopped and questioned or frisked by city police aren’t found to have done anything illegal.
New Yorkers challenging the practice claim that officers often make stops, particularly of Hispanic and black men, without the reasonable suspicion of illegal activity required by law.
“What troubles me is the fact that the suspicion seems to be wrong 90 percent of the time,” Scheindlin said during the city’s closing argument at a trial challenging the so-called stop-and-frisk policy. “That’s a high error rate.”
Scheindlin made the remarks as the nine-week trial drew to a close. The plaintiffs have asked Scheindlin, who is hearing the case without a jury, to order sweeping changes to New York City Police Department policies, training and supervision.
The lawsuit was filed in 2008 by four black men who said they were stopped and questioned or frisked by New York police without reasonable suspicion. They represent a citywide class of New Yorkers who claim they were illegally stopped since January 2005. New York police made more than 500,000 such stops in 2012.
David Floyd, Lalit Clarkson, Deon Dennis and David Ourlicht, who represent the citywide class, also claim the department fails to train officers in proper procedures and imposes quotas that encourage illegal stops.
“The NYPD has laid siege to black and Latino neighborhoods over the past eight years,” Gretchen Hoff Varner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in her closing argument.
Varner said that 85 percent of the 4.3 million people stopped and frisked by police are black or Hispanic. Police recover illegal guns in only .14 percent of the stops, she told Scheindlin.
During the trial, the plaintiffs presented testimony from 12 members of the class who claim they were stopped illegally a total of 19 times.
The city has rejected claims that its policies are illegal. City lawyers claim the police department’s stop-and-frisk policies have helped reduce crime rates to record lows. Lawyers for the city claimed the individuals representing the class failed to show their stops violated the law or were the result of improper quotas.
“There is no race-based reason that the plaintiffs can come forward with,” said Heidi Grossman, a lawyer for the city.
Brenda Cooke, another city lawyer, criticized the testimony of Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia University professor who analyzed police stop-and-frisk data from 2003 through the first half of 2012, as “biased, flawed and unreliable.”
Scheindlin didn’t say when she will rule in the case.
The Floyd case is one of three federal court challenges to the department’s stop-and-frisk practices. In Ligon v. City of New York, Scheindlin in January ordered that police cease making suspicionless “trespass” stops outside privately owned buildings in the borough of the Bronx.
She suspended that order while the city appeals. Davis v. City of New York, also in Scheindlin’s court, challenges police stops in public housing.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police must have “reasonable suspicion” of crime to justify such stops. New York state appeals courts last year threw out at least two convictions of teenagers who were found with guns in stop-and-frisk searches.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said in a statement in March that police made 97,296 street stops in 2002, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first year in office. The number of stops grew to 685,724 in 2011, the group said. The police made 533,042 stops last year, according to the NYCLU.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
The case is Floyd v. City of New York, 08-cv-01034, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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