‘Stop and Frisk’ Policy Ruled Unconstitutional


New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy has been ruled to be unconstitutional by Judge Shira Scheindlin, due to its violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendments. Although this ruling does not bar future implementations of stop and frisk policies, it places a higher burden on police agencies to demonstrate that these policies do not disproportionately target minorities.

The debate over New York’s stop and frisk policy has been centered on its impact on minority groups, as over 80 percent of those individuals stopped were black or Hispanic. Its opponents claimed, and Judge Scheindlin agreed, that the policy amounted to one of “indirect racial profiling.” Furthermore, the effects of the policy had a negative impact on the ability of targeted individuals to conduct their lawful business in the public areas of the city. Judge Scheindlin took especial exception to the fact that the reasons given by police officers for initiating a stop and frisk were often vague and subjective on the part of the reporting officer.

However, Judge Scheindlin did not forbid the city from continuing the policy, albeit under the guidance of an independent monitor to rectify the current program’s constitutional errors. Furthermore, Scheindlin has ordered the use of body cameras on some police officers as a method to effectively record future stop and frisk actions in order to evaluate the department’s compliance with her orders.

Although the immediate effects of this decision are limited to New York City, the notoriety of the case is likely to have an impact on other police departments with similar programs in place. Civil rights advocates may be encouraged to file lawsuits alleging similar racial bias in the implementation of stop and frisk policies in other jurisdictions, making the creation and implementation of racially neutral policies extremely important.

Because the city intends to appeal this judgment, the question of whether or not New York City’s current stop and frisk policy is unconstitutional remains open. Because of this, the long-term fate of this policy, both for New York City and other jurisdictions is unknown. Ultimately, stop and frisk policies will continue to be the subject of serious legal debate for some time to come, especially if other jurisdictions face constitutional challenges to their own policies.


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