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Federal Class Action Against NYPD Stops to Begin

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The city is facing the most comprehensive legal challenge to the NYPD's stop, question and frisk tactic starting Monday. A federal, class action suit will challenge the practice on the basis it is unconstitutional.

"The police department has shown repeatedly over the last decade and half that on its own, it’s not going to make the changes necessary," said lead attorney Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Either they say we don't need to change anything or they make changes that are really just window dressing," he said.

Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly credit stop and frisk with contributing to the city's record drop in crime over the last decade. They say it helps keep illegal guns off the street.

The constitutionality of a large number of street stops will be examined during the course of the trial, in part, because plaintiffs allege they're being targeted illegally.

The NYPD has made about 5 million stops over the past decade. The vast majority of those who have been stopped are black and Hispanic.

Twenty-five-year-old East Village resident David Ourlicht is one of the plaintiffs in the case. He'll be testifying about several encounters he's had with officers. He said he hopes the police reforms the trial is seeking will make city life less restrictive for young men of color like him.

“I don't want to have to worry about going outside or about the people who are supposed to protect me. I want to stop fearing the people who are supposed to protect and serve me," Ourlicht said. 

He estimates he’s been stopped and frisked about 15 times over the past 10 years, including one incident in East Harlem where he was instructed to lay face down on the sidewalk while officers had their weapons drawn.

Celeste Koeleveld, a spokeswoman for the City Law Department, said police go where the crime is, and minorities are overwhelmingly the victims of violent crime in the city. ”Precinct by precinct, the rates at which minorities are stopped are consistent with the rates at which minorities are identified as crime suspects,” she said.

The case will be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, who has said in earlier rulings that she’s deeply concerned about stop and frisk. She is not being asked to ban the tactic since it has been found to be legal. 

Charney said the suit is seeking immediate oversight for a period of years in which an agent of the court would have an ability to order that the NYPD make changes to their stop and frisk practices or be held accountable.

With reporting by the Associated Press.

Editors:

Julianne Welby

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