A federal court handed a big defeat to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Police Department today, ruling that the controversial “stop and frisk” program infringed on constitutional rights.  Judge Shira Scheindlin appointed a federal monitor to oversee the NYPD and “reform” the practice, although that might prove impossible:

A federal judge appointed an independent monitor Monday to oversee changes to the New York Police Department’s contentious policy known as stop, question and frisk, a significant judicial rebuke for what the mayor and police commissioner have defended as a life-saving, crime-fighting tool. …

Four men had sued saying they were unfairly targeted because of their race. There have been about 5 million stops during the past decade, mostly black and Hispanic men. Scheindlin issued her ruling after a 10-week bench trial for the class-action lawsuit that included testimony from top NYPD brass and a dozen people, 11 men and one woman, who said they were wrongly stopped because of their race.

Scheindlin’s opinion ruled that the practice violated both the Fourth and 14th Amendments.  Coverage of the lawsuits have mainly focused on the 14th Amendment and the disparate attention received by minorities as a claim of racism. More than 80% of those searched have been black or Hispanic, according to NYPD’s records.  However, the broader finding of a Fourth Amendment violation makes it almost impossible for New York to reconstitute “stop and frisk” in the future. The data from the police department, Scheindlin noted during the trial, shows how unreasonable the searches have been:

During the trial, Judge Scheindlin indicated her thinking when she noted that the majority of stops result in officers finding no wrong doing.

“A lot of people are being frisked or searched on suspicion of having a gun and nobody has a gun,” she said. Only 0.14 percent of stops have led to police finding guns. “So the point is suspicion turns out to be wrong in most cases.”

Here’s the ruling:

Ruling: Judge finds NYC stop-and-frisk policy violated rights.

CBS points out that the order doesn’t end “stop and frisk,” but how likely is reform?

Instead of ordering an end to the practice, however, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin appointed an independent monitor to oversee changes to the policy.

Peter L. Zimroth, a onetime city lawyer and a former chief assistant district attorney, has been appointed as the monitor. In both roles, Zimroth worked closely with the NYPD, Scheindlin said.

The inclusion of the Fourth Amendment means that reform has to address more than the racial disparities in stops.  The right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure in that part of the Bill of Rights means that police have to have either a warrant or reasonable suspicion in order to stop and search anyone — even in New York. Either police will have to drastically scale back their frisks, or the city will have to criminalize a lot more behavior for pretexts to them.  With Nanny Bloomie in charge at least for the next few months, I know which way I’m betting this goes.