A federal judge ruled this week that the New York Police Department’s policy of indiscriminately stopping and frisking men of color is unconstitutional. Although the decision applies only to New York for now, it could come to affect police forces across the country, including some in Ohio.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin did not ban stop-and-frisk in New York, but ordered a federal monitor to oversee the practice. She said “the NYPD implements its policies regarding stop-and-frisk in a manner that intentionally discriminates based on race,” thus violating the equal-protection clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
The judge noted that 88 percent of the stops in New York result in police letting the person go without an arrest or ticket. That percentage is so high, she suggested, that there was not enough reason to suspect the person of criminal activity. In other words, no probable cause. That, she said, violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by government.
Some Ohio communities apply stop-and-frisk in modified versions. A Toledo Police Department spokesman said the department is guided by a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling arising from Ohio, which said police must have factual and specific reasons to do a stop-and-frisk.
Toledo police officers do not make random stops or frisks, the spokesman said. They need probable cause to detain anyone or to pat down suspects for weapons, he added.
The current Supreme Court has ruled that stop-and-frisks are constitutionally permissible under certain conditions. But for at least one federal judge, these conditions do not include the absolute right to search anyone who is thought to look suspicious.