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NYPD ends prolonged street stops to check for warrants after lawsuit

The New York City Police Department ended a policy of prolonged street stops to check for arrest warrants and ties to other cases as part of a lawsuit settlement.

“The NYPD is committed to upholding the constitutional rights of individuals, and has agreed to clarify existing policy to make it clear when officers can run a warrant query during a detainment,” a spokesperson for the city’s law department, Nicholas Paolucci, told the Associated Press.

The NYPD settled a lawsuit Friday with stipulations that police officers only check for arrest warrants if they have “reasonable suspicion” and that the suspect “was committing, committed or is about to commit” a crime or if there’s probable cause that the suspect has committed a crime.

The class-action suit, filed in 2019, challenged the stops as unconstitutional, citing the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on illegal detention and unlawful search and seizure.

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The Legal Aid Society, a public defender organization, filed the lawsuit with two outside law firms.

“This lawsuit has always been about bringing justice to innocent New Yorkers who are baselessly detained in the street so aggressive NYPD officers can run their IDs,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Cyrus Joubin.

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Law enforcement unions and some elected officials slammed the ruling.

“This is another decision that empowers criminals & prevents police from doing their jobs,” City Council Member Joann Ariola, a Queens Republican, said in a tweet shared by the city’s detectives’ union. “We need to make public safety a priority in this city, but this will virtually guarantee that dangerous criminals will be able to roam at will.”

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Police departments have historically used the suspicion of a relatively minor infraction — the smell of marijuana or a busted taillight, for example — as a pretext to dig into a person’s past, scouring databases for open warrants and what the NYPD calls investigation cards, or I-Cards.

Under the agreement, the NYPD must train all officers in the new policy by Jan. 31. It will also pay $453,733 in damages and attorneys’ fees for five named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs will each receive between $3,000 and $19,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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