The courtroom fight officially began yesterday over whether New York City police violate the U.S. Constitution by stopping, questioning and frisking hundreds of thousands of minorities every year without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights promised Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin (See Profile) that the evidence at the bench trial will show that "the NYPD has laid siege to black and Latino neighborhoods" by the wholesale stopping and frisking of minority youths.
Charney urged the judge to "act boldly and broadly" to remedy "years of widespread and racially discriminatory and unconstitutional" policing by appointing a monitor to oversee reform at the NYPD.
But Heidi Grossman and Brenda Cooke of New York City's Law Department told the judge that Charney's statistical evidence was faulty because the plaintiffs' chief expert used flawed analysis and made the wrong assumptions in studying the data on millions of police forms detailing stop, question and frisk encounters.
Grossman went first, launching a wide-ranging defense of a police department "fully committed to policing New York City in compliance with the law" and whose officers "fully understand" the requirement of reasonable suspicion.
The number of stop-and-frisk encounters, Grossman said, dovetails with the crime rates of neighborhoods and the identity of suspects. "Minority neighborhoods," she told the judge, "overwhelmingly bear the brunt of crime."
"These neighborhoods demand and deserve the department's protection," Grossman said, as making more stops in those neighborhoods is "the nature of hot-spot policingit is not racial profiling."
Scheindlin heard almost three hours of oral arguments yesterday to start what is expected to be a two-month trial in Floyd v. City of New York, 08 Civ. 01034, where Scheindlin is being asked to determine whether the NYPD has a pattern or practice of unconstitutional stops directed from the top down.
The plaintiffs are making two constitutional claims: intentional violation of the Fourth Amendment to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and violation of the equal protection clause because officers are stopping and frisking individuals based on race.
They claim the police are routinely violating the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in the seminal Fourth Amendment case of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, that the police must have reasonable suspicion a crime has been, is, or is about to be committed when making a stop and an officer can only frisk an individual where there is reasonable suspicion that the person may be armed.