Police departments have typically used the suspicion of a minor crime, such as a broken taillight or smell of marijuana, as a pretext to scour databases for open warrants and what the New York City Police Department refers to as I-Cards. But after facing charges of racial profiling, the NYPD has agreed to end this practice.
Digital stop and frisk
This policy, known as digital stop and frisk, has become even easier because police officers carry smartphones which grant instant access to NYPD databases. A 2019 lawsuit, however, brought about this resolution, which strengthens the criminal defense against improper stops and arrests.
This lawsuit challenged these stops, often involving individuals of color, as a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unlawful search and seizure and detention. One plaintiff claimed that this practice actually extended the NYPD’s discriminatory stop and frisk program. In 2013, a judge ruled that the program was a form of indirect racial profiling and severely restricted it.
Another plaintiff in the suit claimed that four plainclothes officers surrounded him as he walked home from the subway and searched him for a gun. After failing to find a weapon, they demanded his identification and performed a warrant check.
An attorney for the Legal aid Society’s Cop Accountability Project, who were involved in this suit, argued that these digital stops turned into unrelated fishing expeditions for evidence.
As part of the settlement, NYPD officers are allowed to engage in warrantless searches during street stops if they have reasonable suspicion that they stopped a person who committed, engaged in committing or is about to commit a crime or if there is probable crime that they committed a crime. In addition to changing its digital stop policy, the NYPD is conducting training for its officers, which must be completed by Jan. 31, 2023.
The NYPD sent a message to all police officers containing notification of this change. This notice is also being read at each shift’s roll call for 10 days. Under the agreement, an officer who violates this policy may be disciplined.
The NYPD will also pay $453,733 and attorney’s fees for five named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Each plaintiff will receive from $3,000 to $9,000.
Routine police stops in any city may have terrible consequences. Attorneys can help assure that rights are protected and fight illegal arrests or seizure of evidence.