On January 8, 2013, a Federal Court in Manhattan found that the NYPD unconstitutionally stopped and questioned people without reasonable suspicion outside of certain private buildings in the Bronx and ordered a stop to the practice. The ruling, by Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York, came after three weeks of testimony by people who were stopped and frisked, experts, the NYPD and the Bronx District Attorney.
Judge Scheindlin’s opinion is important for a number of reasons. It marks the first major win in one of the three legal cases challenging the NYPD’s stop and frisk program in New York City. It also adds momentum to a strengthening grassroots campaign to challenge biased police in New York through legislative and legal strategies. Finally, the decision gives credence to the voices of Bronx residents subjected to the humiliations and harassment of illegal policing.
Judge Scheindlin reflects on the inequality of the NYPD’s Practices:
[W]hile it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx. For those of us who do not fear being stopped as we approach or leave our own homes or those of our friends and families, it is difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat.19 In light of the evidence presented at the hearing, however, I am compelled to conclude that this is the case.
The decision reviews the testimony of individual Bronx residents regarding their stops outside of Trespass Affidavit Program or “Clean Halls” buildings. The program, initiated in the 1990′s, simply provides a formalized way for private landlords to consent to allow police officers to enter and patrol the common areas of their buildings in order to deter crime. However, the decision makes clear that the program was wrongly seen as allowing the police greater rights to stop and question people in and outside of these buildings, to uncover trespassing or other crimes.