Today, in a big day for civil liberties in New York City, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled in Manhattan's Federal District Court that portions of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program are violations of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unwarranted searches and seizures. The ruling in the case of Lignon v. City of New York, the most narrow of three stop-and-frisk related lawsuits that Judge Scheindlin is hearing, asserts that officers must have sufficient cause to stop residents outside of buildings enrolled in the Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP, sometimes referred to as FTAP) in the Bronx, and that many current stops do not meet this standard. "Furtive movements" commonly cited by officers are insufficient, as is a "hunch" or witnessing a person entering and exiting the building. The judge also took issue with the NYPD's training procedures (not the first time the NYPD has had a problem like this), noting incorrect and misleading statements made by uniformed officers on film regarding appropriate standards of cause and suspicion. You can read the complete decision here.
What does this mean on the ground? It's too early to tell, as there are more rulings to come from Judge Scheindlin and the NYPD is already taking issue with the findings (police departments in general and the NYPD in particular are notoriously resistant to change, even court-ordered change). Those working to end/reform stop and frisk as it is currently implemented (it won't surprise readers that I count myself among them) consider this a victory, but the challenge remains to hold the NYPD accountable on a day-to-day basis (Zachary Goelman over at Epichorus had an excellent post about how this works last year). If rulings and activism do push Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg to begin reforming the practice, it will have a big impact on policing, particularly in impact zones like the one in which Franklin Avenue is currently located. Hopefully, this ruling starts a process of reforming NYPD training (as ILFA's written before, these problems are systemic, not the fault of the vast majority of the rank-and-file who serve and protect our city) so as to ensure that stops are professional and patrols in and around TAP buildings limit stops to reasonable suspicion (readers will remember some heated discussion of rooftop patrols on this blog and Brooklynian as a part of TAP a year or so ago).
Any post critical of policing in Crown Heights will draw inevitable accusations of ingratitude and cluelessness, the suggestion that we who criticize do not take seriously the contribution the NYPD has made to reducing crime in the area (this is, of course, substantial) or are simply too newly-arrived to remember (and thus appreciate) it. The only reply I can offer is that it is never too much to ask that our public servants respect our Constitutional rights, and I'm confident that New York's finest can keep the city safe while doing so if those who lead them have the courage to implement proper training and oversight.