Updated, 12:50 p.m. | A civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday accusing the New York Police Department of carrying out tens of thousands of unjustified stops in privately owned buildings in the city where the landlords have authorized officers to enter and given them keys.
The suit, which seeks class action status, mirrors a claim in a separate federal lawsuit against the Police Department involving stops inside public housing projects.
The Police Department has come under intense criticism for its stop-and-frisk practices, which detractors say unfairly and overwhelmingly targets blacks and Latinos. The Police Department argues that its tactics, including the patrolling of private buildings, have contributed to a sharp reduction in crime.
“By challenging uninvited individuals, police are providing a level of safety to tenants that residents of doormen buildings take for granted,” said Paul J Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman.
The suit, filed Wednesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, involves what is known as the “Clean Halls” program and includes 16,000 buildings throughout the city, many of them in the Bronx. Landlords who participate in the program register with the Police Department.
Civil rights lawyers say police officers view the invitation to enter — denoted by a metal sign outside a building — as a license to roam hallways, laundry rooms and stairwells questioning people and making arrests on charges of trespassing that are sometimes unjustified. Some residents feel compelled to carry identification when doing mundane tasks like retrieving mail or doing laundry for fear of being arrested for trespassing, the suit said.
Beyond that, officers have extended this practice to sidewalks around the buildings that participate in the program, according to lawyers for the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Besides residents, visitors and people in the vicinity of the buildings are often stopped by the police.
As a result, the suit said, “Residents of some Clean Halls Buildings warn
their friends, family members, and others not to visit them for fear that they will be stopped, questioned, searched, and issued summonses or arrested for trespassing by NYPD officers. Consequently, residents of Clean Halls Buildings are restricted in their ability to maintain
familial ties, friendships, and other relationships with individuals of their choosing.”
At a news conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, several plaintiffs spoke of living under such conditions that too often feel like a police state.
The suit details the experiences of several residents of privately-owned buildings who claim to be stopped by the police even though they had committed any wrongdoing.
In one instance, a 17-year-old boy who lives in a building in the Bronx describes being stopped by the police and questioned after returning from buying ketchup for dinner. His mother, according to the suit, was asked by officers to come down to the lobby of the building and verify her son’s identify.