The New York Personal Injury Blog

Injunction Sought to End 'Clean Halls', Halt Stop-and-frisks

No one is sure who started the program, but the Clean Halls program has been a fact of life for many residents and visitors of New York City's public housing. The program, which has existed for over 20 years, involves the pat-downs of anyone suspected of trespassing or committing other crimes. In reality, it means residents and non-residents alike are stopped-and-frisked, allegedly without justification, reports the Courthouse News Service.

Monday was the first day of hearings regarding a preliminary injunction to stop the program. In order to successfully obtain the injunction (which is a court order halting stop-and-frisks in the projects), the plaintiffs must show the following:

  1. There is a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the case;
  2. There is a substantial threat of irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted;
  3. The balance of harms weighs in favor of the party seeking the injunction;
  4. The grant of the injunction would serve the public interest.

Monday's testimony mostly addressed the merits of the case. The expert witness, Columbia Professor Jeffrey Fagan, testified that an analysis of police reports from stop-and-frisks indicated that more than 60 percent appeared unjustified. Often, the justification was "furtive movements" by the suspect.

According to CNS, another witness who testified in favor of the injunction was seasoned Bronx prosecutor Jeannette Rucker. She noticed that an alarmingly high amount of the alleged trespassing cases were being tossed by judges. After an investigation, the Bronx decided to interview arresting officers before prosecuting stop-and-frisk trespassing cases.

Both witnesses' testimony lend credence to the argument that the stop-and-frisks are illegitimate and that the plaintiffs will win the case. Rucker's testimony is especially convincing. Prosecutors are incredibly overworked; they wouldn't volunteer to add more work and interviews unless there was suspicion about the validity of the cases.

As for the second element, the judge has already issued several strongly-worded opinions regarding the constitutionally-suspect stop-and-frisk procedures. One would expect that, based on her prior decisions, that she holds the harm of violation of a person's right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure in high regard.

That, however, must be balanced against the competing harm of an injunction's impact on public safety. Less stop-and-frisks theoretically means more weapons and crime. Then again, the need to reduce crime generally does not justify the violation of so many people's rights, especially when stop-and-frisks have such a low success rate. Granting the injunction would serve the public interest in protecting the constitutional rights of those stopped, who are disproportionately young and non-white.

The judge's decision isn't an easy one. Stop-and-frisk does seem to infringe on the rights of many of New York's citizens. On the other hand, it also does seem to stop crime. The timeframe of the practice, especially Clean Halls, correlates with New York's safest period in its history. Even if the judge denies the preliminary injunction, she can still issue an injunction after the full trial is complete.

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