NEW YORK, N.Y. - Finding New York City's attitude "deeply troubling," a judge granted class action status Wednesday to a lawsuit that accuses police of discriminating against blacks and Hispanics with stops and searches without cause.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that there was "overwhelming evidence" that the practice has led to thousands of illegal stops.
The lawsuit alleges that the police department purposefully targeted black and Hispanic neighbourhoods and said officers are pressured to meet quotas as part of the program and are punished if they don't.
The Police Department has said it made 203,500 street stops during the first three months of 2012, up from 183,326 in the first three months of 2011.
The city has responded to the lawsuit by saying a court order to stop the practice would amount to "judicial intrusion."
Scheindlin called that "disturbing."
"First, suspicionless stops should never occur," Scheindlin wrote.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly declined to comment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the program, saying it had helped the city prevent thousands of deaths.
"It's taken more than 6,000 guns off the streets in the last eight years, and this year we are on pace to have the lowest number of murders in recorded history," Bloomberg said. "We're not going to do anything that undermines that trend and threatens public safety."
The city law office said in a statement: "We respectfully disagree with the decision and are reviewing our legal options."
Darius Charney, who argued the case on behalf of the Center for constitutional Rights, a non-profit legal organization, said the ruling "reinforces that this is a citywide problem the NYPD needs to address."
The RAND Corp. research organization, in a study commissioned by the NYPD and released in 2007, acknowledged that "black pedestrians were stopped at a rate that is 50 per cent greater than their representation in the residential census."