New York City – A federal judge ruled that the New York Police Department’s practice of stopping and searching people when they leave privately owned apartment buildings in the Bronx under an assumption that they’re trespassing is unconstitutional, the New York Times reported.
The judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said the N.Y.P.D. must cease conducting such trespass stops outside these private buildings unless they have reasonable suspicion that the person they’ve stopped has trespassed.
This Jan. 8 ruling specifically referred to practices the N.Y.P.D. engaged in through its Trespass Affidavit Program (TAP), an N.Y.P.D. initiative that owners of private apartment buildings enrolled in so that police officers could patrol their property and arrest trespassers.
The N.Y.P.D., however, was systematically stopping and frisking people outside of these buildings under TAP without any evidence that the people they stopped and searched had trespassed, according to Scheindlin.
Scheindlin said the N.Y.P.D. through its training had taught officers: “Stop and question first, develop reasonable suspicion later.”
The judge called for a hearing to discuss remedies to the problems she identified. She also said she’s considering requiring that the N.Y.P.D. develop a new formal policy to limit the circumstances when it would be legally permissible to stop someone outside a TAP building on suspicion of trespassing. Scheindlin said she might require a revision of N.Y.P.D.’s training of how officers should conduct legal stops.
The ruling followed a seven-day hearing in October when nine Black and Latino residents testified about being stopped by police after leaving their homes or visiting relatives and friends.
This decision is yet another setback for the city’s controversial stop and frisk program, which has been facing rising criticism in recent years, largely for extensive use of intrusive and unconstitutional searches targeted at people of color. Tuesday's ruling happened in response to a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
In July, Bronx District Attorney Sterling Johnson decided to cease all prosecutions of criminal trespass cases at Bronx housing projects unless prosecutors are able to interview an arresting officer to ensure the arrest is warranted.
Johnson’s office concluded that many of those arrested were innocent of trespassing charges and often lived in the housing project where they were arrested or were invited as guests.
The chief of arraignments for the Bronx prosecutor complained in a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in July that their office had found significant problems with trespassing arrests, explaining that they’d received numerous complaints from defense lawyers that people had been arrested in numerous instances even after they provided “persuasive evidence” at the time of the arrest that they were invited guests to the housing projects. In many instances, guests contacted the residents they were there to visit and those residents verified they had been invited and police arrested them anyway.