Monday, March 18, 2013

Trial Begins in NYC as Plaintiffs Attack Police Stop-and-Frisk Practices

 By Jay Perry

            The trial of a class action suit challenging the “stop and frisk” procedures of the New York Police Department began today in a New York District Court. The case, Floyd v. City of New York, was discussed here earlier when the Court ruled that the case could proceed as a class action suit, noting that the alleged stops could demonstrate a “deeply troubling apathy toward New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”
             The plaintiffs are possibly going to call up to 100 witnesses, some to provide first-hand accounts of being frisked and questioned without reasonable suspicion. The lead plaintiff, a medical student, testified today about two stops, both of which left him “frustrated, humiliated.” After the second one, which took place outside his residence he stated that, “I felt that I was being told I shouldn’t leave my home.” The plaintiffs claim that the stops are based on race and not bona fide suspicion of actual crime taking place.  Attorneys for the city today disputed that claim, noting that most crime victims are racial minorities and that “crime drives where police officers go, not race.” The city also claims that the decrease in crime has been a direct result of this more active police presence on the streets. It seems undisputed that more stops and frisks have been taking place. The New York Civil Liberties Union states that such stops rose from 97,296 in 2002 to 533,042 in 2012. From the stops last year, approximately 89 percent resulted in no arrest or ticket. 

         This trial bears attention because it highlights the increased use in many cities of direct police interventions in noncriminal behavior. The question remains whether this type of police work is truly beneficial to public safety and moreover whether society is willing to pay the cost of a decrease in liberty.

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