NEW YORK CITY — In a scathing takedown of the NYPD's much-touted anti-crime tactic, a federal judge ruled Monday morning that the department's use of stop-and-frisks violated hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers' constitutional rights.
In the decision, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin said between January of 2004 and June of 2012 cops stopped more than 4 million people — mostly black and Hispanic men — patting them down and rummaging through pockets of more than half of them, often for no reason.
The vast majority of the people stopped — 88 percent — were released without any charges.
"The City adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data," Scheindlin wrote in her 198-page ruling on the case, Floyd v. City of NY.
In using the tactic, Scheindlin ruled that police violated two constitutional amendments — the fourth, which bars unlawful search and seizure, and fourteenth, which ensures equal protection and due process under the law.
Scheindlin emphasized that her ruling, which follows a two-month-long trial, does not halt the use of the tactic. Instead, it forces officers to more clearly prove reasonable suspicion for the stops and to submit to oversight by a court-appointed monitor, she wrote.
Scheindlin picked Peter Zimroth, a former top lawyer for the city's law department and ex-prosecutor for the Manhattan District Attorney's office, to monitor the NYPD. Zimroth could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.
The judge also ordered a pilot program to reform the tactic. Officers from precincts that had the highest number of stops in 2012 will have to wear body cameras for one year. And the NYPD will also have to participate in town hall meetings in every borough, she ruled.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who have repeatedly defended the practice as necessary to prevent violent crime, blasted the ruling at a press conference Monday afternoon at City Hall, vowing to appeal.
"This is a very dangerous decision made by a judge who I believe does not understand what good policing is," Bloomberg said, adding that he believed the ruling would compromise public safety.
Several mayoral candidates said Monday that if elected, they would drop any city appeal of Scheindlin's decision.
Scheindlin made a point of writing in her decision that she wasn't interested in whether the policing tactic is effective, rather whether the practice of it in New York City followed the guidelines of the Constitution.
"Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime — preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example — but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective," she wrote.
However, the NYPD's own statistics have shown that the tactic was not as effective as the police claimed, DNAinfo found.
The number of guns seized by cops dropped 13.5 percent between 2009 and 2011 when they also set a record number of stop-and-frisks at 685,724.
Statistics also showed that the tactic had little impact on the number of shootings that took place in that time period. At stop-and-frisk's peak, there were about 1,821, nearly as many as Mayor Bloomberg's first year in office when the tactic was not used as heavily.
Lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the dozen plaintiffs in the case, addressed the ruling at a 1 p.m. press conference in Midtown.
"For a lot of us, this is the lowest form of police abuse," said Lalit Clarkson, one of the plaintiffs. "If we can take care of this, maybe the highest forms of police abuse will slowly fade away."
The ruling quickly rippled across the city.
"It saves lives. It protects the city. The police have to do the job," said Julio Borona, a 51-year-old livery driver from Corona.
Christina Gonzalez, an activist whom the NYPD branded a "professional agitator" for filming stops and protesting the tactic, called it a "big statement for all the kids whose rights were violated."
"It gives hope," she added.
Scheindlin anticipated strong reactions from either side of the stop and frisk issue, but asked that her opinion be read with patience because the issue is so complicated.
“Some will quarrel with the findings in one section or another,” she wrote. “But, when read as a whole, with an understanding of the interplay between each section, I hope that this Opinion will bring more clarity and less disagreement to this complex and sensitive issue.”