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Monday, May 20, 2013 - 9:45am

Court Case Winds Down In New York's Stop-And-Frisk Challenge

Closing arguments are set to take place Monday in the federal class action trial involving New York City's stop-and-frisk policy. The trial has been going on for two months in Manhattan.

Plaintiffs in Floyd v. City of New York claim the New York Police Department, its supervisors and its union pressured police officers to stop, question and frisk hundreds of thousands of people each year, even establishing quotas. They argue that 88 percent of the stops involved blacks and Hispanics, mostly men, and were in fact a form of racial profiling.

The police and the city argued that these policies were goals, not quotas, and have made New York the safest big city in America.

"I can't imagine any rational person saying that the techniques are not working and that we should stop them," says Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The city also argued that these stops took place in high crime areas where the crime was often black on black or Hispanic on Hispanic. As NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told public radio station WNYC: "Ninety-six percent of the shooting victims in New York City are black or Hispanic. Crime is down in this city in the last two decades 80 percent."

Joseph Esposito, who was NYPD's chief until this year, testified at the trial that he had heard no complaints about racial profiling.

That brought Judge Shira Scheindlin up short: You never heard that from any community groups? she asked.

But plaintiffs like Nicholas Pert and David Ourlicht told NPR a different story.

"I remember squad cars pulling up; they just pulled up aggressively, and the cops came out with their guns drawn," Pert says.

"Threw me against the wall," Ourlicht says. "Took everything out of my pockets, threw it on the floor, dumped my bag on the floor, my books and everything."

"It left me embarrassed, humiliated and upset," Pert adds.

Other testimony by whistle-blowing cops provided recordings at the trial where supervisors told officers to push up the number of stops.

"The police are told to get numbers," says Jonathan Moore, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "This is not what stop-and-frisk should be. Stop-and-frisk is a legitimate tool for law enforcement to use. It should not be the way you measure an officer's future in the New York City Police Department."

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that very few of the stops led to arrests or even the discovery of illegal guns. And even though the number of stops went down significantly in 2012, there were almost 5 million stops in 10 years.

Plaintiffs are asking Judge Scheindlin to put the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policies under judicial oversight, something the city and the NYPD definitely oppose.

The trial is really about two different questions. Police have the authority to stop someone, but at what point does that stop and that search violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution? Secondly, is the pattern of stop-and-frisk a form of racial profiling?

Ian Weinstein, a law professor at Fordham University, says stop-and-frisk can only be used if there is a suspicion of a crime. If the judge finds there is a pattern of exceeding lawful authority, "particularly to frisk someone for weapons, and to search in other words, go in pockets, ask them to empty a bag that is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. That would justify an oversight commission, different sorts of remedies that the plaintiffs have proposed, without addressing the question of racial discrimination and racial profiling."

Proving racial profiling is much harder, Weinstein says. "You have to show intent, and that can be difficult to prove."

Standards of proof have become more demanding, he says, and the culture of race claims has shifted over 20 years.

"Courts are less receptive, the society is less receptive, and we see this in the Supreme Court's movement," Weinstein says.

Closing arguments are expected to take all of Monday, and the judge's ruling is not expected for several months.

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