NEW YORK – A federal judge let the New York Police Department on Tuesday temporarily resume stop-and-frisk stops she believes are unconstitutional while she decides what permanent remedies are necessary to prevent illegal stops in thousands of privately owned buildings.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan lifted immediate implementation of the order she issued earlier this month concerning a program aimed at decreasing city crime.
The judge earlier this month found that the city acted unconstitutionally in making trespass stops without reasonable suspicion at more than 3,000 Bronx buildings participating in the program, a finding that the city is challenging in a federal appeals court. Scheindlin said the need for the appeal will be mooted by her order lifting the ban.
Scheindlin said she believes her original ruling was correct when she found police sometimes stopped people who were merely entering or exiting buildings and not acting suspicious, but the city had shown it would be expensive to immediately implement an order that could be reversed in a complicated area of law.
"There is more than enough proof that a large number of people have been improperly stopped as a result of NYPD practices. These facts warrant an injunction," she wrote Tuesday.
However, she noted that "any unnecessary administrative costs imposed on the NYPD will be in some sense irreversible," boosting the possibility of irreparable harm to the department.
A trial in March is set to decide the fate of a lawsuit more broadly challenging the city's stop-and-frisk practices. That lawsuit, filed in 2008, challenges whether minorities are stopped at an unconstitutionally disproportionate rate, and whether there is a failure to monitor, supervise, and discipline officers who fail to meet the NYPD's stop-and-frisk reporting guidelines. The judge refused a request by the city to delay that trial.
Scheindlin acknowledged that letting the current practices persist in the Bronx might allow more illegal stops by police.
"On the other hand, allowing a longstanding unconstitutional practice to persist for a few months while the parties present arguments regarding the appropriate scope of a remedy is quite distinct from allowing such a practice to persist until the completion of trial," she said.
Heidi Grossman, a city attorney on the case, said the city believes Scheindlin acted correctly with her order Tuesday.
Alexis Karteron, a senior staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said nothing about Scheindlin's order undermines her earlier ruling.
"We're looking forward to holding the NYPD accountable," she said.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have criticized the program, saying it lets police conduct regular floor-by-floor sweeps and engage in particularly aggressive stop, question, frisk and arrest practices. The city has said that police act lawfully in a program that has successfully reduced crime in high-crime areas.