A federal judge on Monday appointed an outside set of eyes to oversee changes to New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy, which she says violates the constitutional rights of New Yorkers.
U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin said in a long-awaited ruling that one-time city lawyer and former Manhattan chief assistant district attorney Peter L. Zimroth has been appointed as the monitor.
Zimroth, who is currently a partner in the New York law Office of Arnold & Porter, also taught criminal law and criminal procedure as a tenured professor at the New York University School of Law.
In a statement, he said, in part, "I believe that, with the cooperation of the NYPD and others, procedures can be designed and implemented to meet the requirements of the court's order while at the same time ensuring effective policing."
The decision in the federal class action trial comes after allegations that police supervisors and their union pressured officers to stop, question and frisk hundreds and thousands of people by establishing quotas and racial profiling.
The New York Civil Liberties Union hailed the decision, calling it a "major victory for New Yorkers and for fair, just and effective policing by the nation’s largest police force."
NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman added, "With this step, the victims of this illegal and biased program have become central players in cleaning up the program."
In her ruling, Scheindlin said the controversial practice infringes on the Fourth and 14th Amendments.
The city has argued that the stops are done legally in high-crime areas, and said the policy is a life-saving, crime-fighting tool.
During a press briefing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to appeal the ruling, noting that the policy has led to record low crime rates. He also went after the judge, saying her ruling "conveyed a disturbing disregard" for the NYPD and its officers.
"She ignored the real world realities of crime, the fact that stops match up with crime statistics, and the fact that our police officers on patrol, the majority of whom are black, Hispanic or members of other ethnic or racial minorities, make an average about less than one stop a week," Bloomberg said.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly also reiterated the department does not engage in racial profiling, noting legislation that would make such a practice illegal.
"The NYPD is the most racially and ethnically diverse police department in the world. And in contrast with some societies, New York City and its police department have focused their crime-fighting efforts to protect the poorest members of our community, who are disproportionately the victims or murder and other violent crime," Kelly said.
The case was built around four men who had sued the city, charging they were unfairly targeted because of their race.
Top NYPD brass testified during the 10-week proceeding, along with a dozen people who said they were wrongly stopped.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the two groups who filed a class action lawsuit against the policy, praised the judge's decision, calling it a historic and long-overdue victory.
During a press conference, they praised not only the lawyers but the Police Accountability Unit. They say the city should no longer be part of the problem but a part of the solution, and that it should be seen as an opportunity to work with the citizens to rebuild trust.
"We've been fighting this in court for 14 years. It's time to stop fighting about it," said Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "We know there's a problem. Let's work together to solve the problem."
Many of the witnesses who testified during the court hearings were at the press conference, some of whom were visibly moved by Monday's announcement.
"The first thing I did was cry. It wasn't because I was sad or happy," said David Ourlicht, who sued the NYPD. "It's important."
They said that the mayor just doesn't understand and doesn't want to listen to the cries of countless law-abiding blacks and Latinos who say they are very afraid of police officers because of stop-and-frisk.
"We didn't fabricate anything," said Leroy Downes, who sued the NYPD. "We came to the table and said, 'This is our experiences.' We're speaking for millions of other people that are going through the same thing in this city."
Representatives say even though the city can appeal, the factual evidence speaks for itself.
Meantime, the case could soon have a direct effect on how the NYPD and other police departments across the country make street stops.
Among the recommended changes, the judge wants to see more detailed forms, known as UF-250s, to be filled out by officers when conducting stops, and copies given to those involved.
Additionally, she is calling on the NYPD to begin a pilot program that would have officers wear cameras to document stops.
She also ordered more training for officers when it comes to stop-and-frisk to combat racial profiling and to make sure stops don't turn into illegal searches.
In a statement, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said the decision fails to address the root of the problem, adding, "Quotas for police activities like summonses and stop, question and frisks are a direct result of inadequate funding of the NYPD."
Lynch went on to say police officers should be allowed to "exercise their professional discretion and judgement, just as they had prior to the dramatic increase in stops caused by quotas," adding, "The effect of the decision will be to divert valuable public funds and scarce resources from policing, which could be used to hire more police officers."