Stop-and-frisk program in Bronx ruled unconstitutional

A federal judge ordered the immediate stop of unjustified trespass searches outside Bronx apartment buildings

Published January 9, 2013 1:39PM (EST)

NYPD officers (AP)
NYPD officers (AP)

A federal judge Tuesday ruled that the NYPD had "systematically" acted unconstitutionally when carrying out stop-and-frisk searches on individuals leaving residential Bronx buildings.

According to the NYCLU who brought the class action suit against the NYPD, police had regularly carried out unlawful searches during sweeps of "Clean Halls" apartment buildings in the Bronx. Operation Clean Halls, established in the 1991, gives police permission to stop and search individuals in and around New York apartment buildings in high crime areas. In 2011,  according to the NYCLU , police stopped 1,137 of the 1,857 "Clean Halls" residents in the Bronx.

Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD must immediately stop carrying out trespass stops outside the private buildings in the program, unless officers have reasonable suspicion, "a legal standard that requires officers to be acting on more than just a hunch," noted the New York Times.

"The evidence of numerous unlawful stops at the hearing strengthens the conclusion that the NYPD's inaccurate training has taught officers the following lesson: stop and question first, develop suspicions later," Schendlin's decision read.

Scheindlin is presiding over two more significant stop-and-frisk lawsuits, following months of public outcry and growing activist campaigns against stop-and-frisk policy, which has consistently been found to disproportionately target young black and Latino men.

"Today's decision is a major step toward dismantling the NYPD's stop-and-frisk regime," said NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman in a statement. "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."

Police commissioner Ray Kelley was swift to condemn the judge's decision, which he said "unnecessarily interferes with the department’s efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep 'Clean Halls' buildings safe and secure.”

However, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi last year described what Kelley's safety and security in "Clean Halls" looked like:

If you live in a Clean Halls building, you can’t even go out to take out the trash without carrying an ID – and even that might not be enough. If you go out for any reason, there may be police in the hallways, demanding that you explain yourself, and insisting, in brazenly illegal and unconstitutional fashion, on searches of your person.

For the first time Tuesday, a federal court agreed that the practice violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. As Judge Scheindlin noted, ""While it may be difficult to say when 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 buildings."



By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bronx Fourth Amendment New York Nypd Police Brutality Stop-and-frisk