by Joseph Goldstein

“‘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 N.Y.P.D. has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx,’ Judge Scheindlin ruled.

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“In the decision released on Tuesday, the judge ordered the police ‘to cease performing 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.”

I realize I’m late to the party in sharing this article, but figured I ought to given the amount of space I have devoted on this blog to stop-and-frisk related issues.  This is a good first step, but it will be interesting to see where the rest of the litigation goes.  As usual, the NYPD’s response to this decision is pure politics and completely distorts its effects.  The argument that the decision interferes with the department’s crime-fighting tools is ignorant and offensive:  does the Constitution limit police ability to catch criminals?  Of course it does to some extent, but this is the compromise that we concluded was appropriate in light of the abuses effected by the British forces in pre-revolutionary America.  We as a society have agreed that it is worth letting a few guilty people go free to have sufficient procedural protections to ensure that innocent people are not being harassed or convicted.  When police harassment becomes a bigger problem than the crime that police are supposedly there to prevent, as seems to be the case here, then it is in everyone’s interest that the balance shifts.

Furthermore the examples of people recently arrested under the stop-and-frisk “program” bear no relation to the ruling in question:  if officers see a gun protruding from a person’s pants, they clearly have reasonable suspicion (if not probable cause) to stop him; if a person is on the roof of a building (which I understand are generally not meant to be open to the public), then the police probably have reasonable suspicion to stop him.  Additionally, as I understand the decision from the article (admittedly I have not read the actual opinion), the decision only limits the ability of the police to stop persons outside of public housing buildings, and only if they lack reasonable suspicion (which is the alleged standard anyway).

My real fear is that this opinion will have no effect at all, other than to cause police to reformulate their lies that “justify” stops and arrests.