NEW YORK — The NYPD cannot stop people outside certain Bronx apartment buildings for trespassing without “reasonable suspicion,” a Federal judge ruled Tuesday, dealing a blow to part of the Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy.
The private buildings referred to in the lawsuit are enrolled in NYPD’s Operation Clean Halls, in which landlords give police a tenant roster and permission to stop and arrest unknown visitors.
In her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin sided with the plaintiffs who filed the suit in March, arguing that officers often wrongly stop and sometimes arrest tenants and their guests as they come and go from buildings enrolled in the program, also called the Trespass Affidavit Program, or TAP.
“While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists,” Scheindlin wrote in a 157-page ruling, "and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in The Bronx.”
The city launched Operation Clean Halls in 1991 as a way to crack down on drug dealing and other illegal activities inside private buildings. The program is part of the NYPD’s broader stop-and-frisk strategy, in which officers search individuals who arouse their suspicion.
In a written response Tuesday, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly noted that landlords voluntarily sign onto the program, which he said offers a "modicum of safety for less prosperous tenants" in buildings without doormen.
"Today's decision unnecessarily interferes with the department's efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep Clean Halls buildings safe and secure," Kelly said.
More than 8,000 apartment buildings citywide were enrolled in the program as of July, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed the federal class-action lawsuit along with The Bronx Defenders, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firm of Shearman & Sterling LLP.
Roughly 40 percent of those buildings — 3,261 total — are located in The Bronx, with nearly every private residential building in certain neighborhoods participating, according to the NYCLU.
The judge granted a preliminary injunction halting trespass stops only outside Clean Halls buildings in The Bronx, which the plaintiffs sought in a September motion.
“Today’s decision is a major step toward dismantling the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk regime,” NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement Tuesday. “Operation Clean Halls has placed New Yorkers, mostly black and Latino, under siege in their own homes in thousands of apartment buildings.”
Scheindlin also listed other possible corrective actions for the NYPD, including the creation of a formal policy for trespass stops, enhanced supervision and training of officers and more rigorous reporting of stops.
The city intends to argue against these proposed remedies, which "place an unacceptable burden on the NYPD," according to Michael Cardozo, corporation counsel for the city's Law Department.
The judge will decide which remedies the police should enact at a hearing in March.
In her ruling, Scheindlin also suggested that the department's current stop-and-frisk instruction may actually prepare officers to make unconstitutional stops.
“The evidence of numerous unlawful stops at the hearing strengthens the conclusion that the NYPD’s inaccurate training has taught officers the following lesson: stop and question first, develop reasonable suspicion later,” Scheindlin wrote.
Two other stop-and-frisk cases are also pending before the court.