Right now the NYPD is on trial for civil rights violations for their stop and frisk policies. The question at trial is whether the police department unfairly targeted minorities for unlawful detentions and searches. Under the Constitution, we are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures from the government. Police are allowed to stop and pat people down (known as Terry stops) if they have probable cause to believe they are committing, are about to commit, or just committed a crime. Just because someone is a young man who happens to be a minority is not legal justification to detain otherwise innocent citizens.
The plaintiffs are claiming not only did the City frequently stop people without justification, but that they specifically targeted young, male minorities to stop and frisk without justification, strictly due to their age and race. The evidence is not merely anecdotal; among the witnesses that have testified include police officers who have indicated that there were quotas placed on them to issue citaions. The officers have brought in recordings from meetings with superior officers that appear to include specific directives to target young male minorities. Officers have testified under oath that kids were being stopped for no reason. Plaintiffs have testified to being targeted multiple times without justification.
It is an affront to our Constitution that police officers would be so caught up in making arrests that they would step on the rights they are sworn to protect. The mindset in some law enforcement officers is that there are bad guys out there, and they are justified in what they do if they are pursuing those bad guys. However, except in circumstances outlined under law, it is inappropriate to infringe on the rights of many (perhaps a high percentage of the 5 million that have been stopped in the last decade) . Any stop that is not based on reasonable suspicion of actual criminal activity is a violation of someone’s constitutional rights. If it is proved that the NYPD deliberately ignored people’s rights through their policy, they are wrong, and should have to pay. That is the only remedy to prevent such illegal practices in the future.
The irony is that such policies may create greater challenges for law enforcement officers. The more innocent people who get harassed, the greater the distrust and resentment of law enforcement grows among citizens. That leads to greater difficulty in future enforcement efforts. The NYPD is vigorously fighting the allegations, saying their actions are lawful, and the city is safer than it has been in decades.
Perhaps, in light of the evidence, they should be scrutinizng their own policies. The money spent fighting the lawsuit bight be better spent hiring a PR firm to advertise a new NYPD that fights to protect the Constitution, and uses that as a springboard to rebuilding their relationship with the people they are sworn to protect. Admittedly, that would require admitting they did something wrong, which is harder for politicians than spending public money to defend themselves in court. It is much easier for politicians to claim to be tough on crime than to be perceived as not backing their police department, and bad cops go on hurting the reputation of the whole department, and cops everywhere.
Thanks to Aaron for alerting me to this story.