Justice Department weighs in on NY stop-frisk case

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department has treaded carefully into the debate over the New York Police Department’s stop, question and frisk policy, telling a federal judge that it strongly endorses an independent monitor to oversee changes should she decide civil rights violations have occurred.

Lawyers for the Justice Department filed a 21-page statement of interest in the case late Wednesday, the last day to file paperwork. The court papers say the government was weighing in “only in order to assist the court on the issue of remedy, and only should it find that NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices are unlawful.” It did not say whether it believed the practices to be unconstitutional.

“The department has extensive experience working to ensure that police services are delivered in an effective, constitutional manner,” the Justice Department said in a statement following the court filing. “Our statement of interest is intended to share our experience relevant to fashioning an appropriate remedy, should it be required.”

U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin is considering whether to order reforms to the police policy after a 10-week bench trial in which a dozen people testified that they were stopped by police solely because of their race.

About 5 million people have been stopped by New York police in the past decade, most of them black and Hispanic men. Lawyers for the four men who sued say hundreds of thousands of those stops were unconstitutional, and they want a monitor to oversee changes to police department training, supervision and policy.

City lawyers, the mayor and the police commissioner have all argued that the stops are not wrongful, and the policy is a necessary tool that has helped drive down crime to record lows.

The Justice Department paperwork, first reported by the Daily News of New York, did not mention the merits of the other reforms requested.

In its statement, the Justice Department noted that it sought and secured reforms to police misconduct in dozens of law enforcement agencies nationwide, and gave the judge citations to peruse the cases. It singled out as a  success a consent decree in Pittsburgh in 1997 where reforms were overseen by a monitor until 2002.

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