US Attorney General weighs in at the last hour in lawsuit challenging “stop and frisk” program

The New York Police Department has a controversial program called “stop-and-frisk”. This program allows officers to stop and frisk anyone in a situation where they have reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed.

Implemented in 2002, over the past decade millions of people have been stopped routinely by police and given a frisk. The Wall Street Journal cited five million individuals have been stopped since the program began.

Most of the people stopped are black and Latino. Some reports say police data gives this figure as 85 percent. NYPD records show about 90 percent of the people stopped under this program turn out to be innocent of crimes, according to the city’s police records.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) says the practice raises “serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights.” Currently, the program is now under fire. A lawsuit was filed that challenges the program’s validity under the U.S. Constitution, saying it violates both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

As the class-action lawsuit, initiated by Center for Constitutional Rights, wraps up, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder “weighed in at the last minute”, reported the New York Daily News. The Justice Department reportedly did not comment on whether or not the practice was unconstitutional, but did suggest federal oversight over stop-and-frisk. If so, this could lead to a federal monitor getting involved if the City loses its case.

Up to this point the U.S. Department of Justice had been quiet on the issue. The last minute input does not allow NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly time to respond. The case had been initiated on Jan. 31, 2008.

“It is the position of the United States that, should the court find that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices are unlawful, the court has wide discretion to enter injunctive relief,” the strongly worded “Statement of Interest of the United States” declares. “The injunctive relief may include the appointment of an independent monitor.”

New York City lawyers are arguing this would be unnecessary because the city has its own agencies overseeing, and states the court does not have the authority to appoint an external monitor.

The plaintiffs in the case disagree, noting the city needs to “accept that the kind of significant change necessary to fix the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices will require outside monitoring,” center attorneys said in a statement. If a federal monitor was put into place, the team assigned to the task would conduct audits of reports filed by NYPD officers for each stop. New York City officials, however, are against the idea of a monitor.

“We think that a monitor would be even more disruptive than an IG,” said Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference in Queens, New York, reported Christian Science Monitor (courtesy Yahoo!). “It just makes no sense whatsoever, when lives are on the line, to try to change the rules and hamper the police department from doing their job…. They comply with the law. We are 100 percent confident in that.”

An article in February 2012 in UK’s The Guardian reported a 600 percent increase of stops since the program’s initiation.

A decision on whether or not the program is unconstitutional is expected to be rendered by Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Sheindlin sometime during summer 2013.