New York's stop-and-frisk policing policy, widely credited with helping to bring down its once-dizzying crime rate, is a violation of the US Constitution, a federal court judge ruled Monday.
In a 198-page ruling, Judge Shira Scheindlin said the practice of New York police randomly stopping individuals on the street and subjecting them to searches violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
It also ran afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law, said Scheindlin, who noted how young black and Hispanic males were most likely to be targeted.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his administration would appeal the ruling, telling reporters that stop-and-search was a "vital deterrent" that had taken 8,000 guns off the street over a decade.
"There is no question that stop, question and frisk has saved countless lives," he said.
Stopping short of ordering a halt to stop-and-frisk, the US District Court judge ordered the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure that such searches be carried out "in accordance with the Constitution."
Bloomberg bristled at that idea, saying it was tantamount to putting the New York police department "into receivership."
The ruling is a setback for Bloomberg and the New York police department, for whom stop-and-frisk has been a centerpiece in efforts to bring criminality to heel after the drug-fueled violence of the 1970s and 1980s.
Of the 4.4 million cases between January 2004 and January 2012 in which New York police briefly detained individuals on suspicion they might be involved in a crime, 52 percent involved blacks and 31 percent Hispanic. Only 10 percent involved whites.
"The city and its highest officials believe that blacks and Hispanics should be stopped at the same rate as their proportion of the local criminal suspect population," Scheindlin said.
"But this reasoning is flawed because the stopped population is overwhelmingly innocent -- not criminal."
The ruling is a victory for the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York group that filed a class-action lawsuit seeking federal oversight of stop-and-frisk.
"Today is a victory for all New Yorkers," it said in a statement.
"After more than five million stops conducted under the current administration, hundreds of thousands of them illegal and discriminatory, the New York Police Department has finally been held accountable," it added.
"It is time for the city to stop denying the problem and work with the community to fix it."