- Last Updated: 5:42 PM, January 8, 2013
- Posted: 11:07 AM, January 8, 2013
A federal judge today ordered the NYPD to "immediately cease" stopping people outside Bronx apartments enrolled in a voluntary anti-crime program unless cops have "reasonable suspicion of trespass,” but will allow the controversial stop-and-frisk policies to continue with modifications.
In a massive, 157-page decision, Judge Shira Scheindlin said she was "not ordering the abolition or even a reduction" of the city's "Clean Halls" program, under which landlords can let cops patrol inside privately-owned apartment buildings to crack down on drug dealing and other crimes.
But she said her ruling "is directed squarely at a category of stops lacking reasonable suspicion."
Plaintiffs in the case, four black and Latino Bronx residents represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union, charged that cops systematically violate people’s rights and target minorities by stopping them outside "Clean Halls" buildings on suspicion of trespassing. It is one of three cases before Scheindlin challenging the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies.
“In sum, while 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 [Clean Halls] buildings in the Bronx,” Scheindlin wrote. “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. In light of the evidence presented at the hearing, however, I am compelled to conclude that this is the case.
Still, Scheindlin did not challenge the effectiveness of stop-and-frisks as a law enforcement tool.
“I am not ordering the abolition or even a reduction of [Clean Halls[, which appears to be a valuable way of using the NYPD’s resources to enhance the security in voluntarily enrolled private buildings,” she wrote.
Instead, she said cops will be expected to justify every stop-and-frisk encounter beyond saying an individual was suspicious.
"In order for an officer to have 'reasonable suspicion' that an individual is engaged in criminal trespass, the officer must be able to articulate facts providing 'a minimal level of objective justification for making the stop,' which means 'something more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch,'" she wrote.
"In particular, an individual observed exiting or entering a [Clean Halls] building does not establish reasonable suspicion of trespass, even if the building is located in a high crime area, and regardless of the time of day,” she wrote.
In a statement, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly blasted the decision.
“Some may take for granted the safety provided by doormen who routinely challenge visitors to their apartment buildings. Through 'Clean Halls,' the police have worked to provide a modicum of safety for less prosperous tenants,” he said. “Their landlords explicitly requested this extra level of protection. The NYPD is fully committed to doing so in a manner that respects the constitutional rights of residents and visitors. Today's decision unnecessarily interferes with the Department's efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep Clean Halls buildings safe and secure."
She also said she is considering an order to mandate the NYPD to revise its written policies and training for stop-and-frisk encounters inside and outside of buildings in the "Clean Halls" program. She may also order the police to document each encounter and have supervisors periodically review them to make sure there was a reason for the stop. Many of these policies were already instituted by the NYPD.
“The NYPD is ordered immediately to cease performing trespass stops outside [Clean Halls] buildings in the Bronx without reasonable suspicion of trespass, in
accordance with the law,” she wrote.
The NYCLU declared the decision a major victory.
“Today’s decision is a major step toward dismantling the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk regime,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Operation Clean Halls has placed New Yorkers, mostly black and Latino, under siege in their own homes in thousands of apartment buildings. This aggressive assault on people’s constitutional rights must be stopped.”
The NYPD and city attorneys had no immediate comment.
But, John Jay prof Gene O’Donnell says the ruling sounds worse than it actually is for the NYPD: “I think it looks more dramatic than it will turn out to be,” he said. “She is basically saying clean up your act.