The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) late last month filed a federal lawsuit to curb a key provision of the New York City Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program.
The class-action lawsuit, filed March 28, alleges that the NYPD’s “Operation Clean Halls” program in which landlords can ask NYPD to patrol a building’s hallways to prevent drug dealing and use, has instead resulted in illegal searches, stops, summons, and arrests of residents and their guests in the buildings enrolled.
This citywide program has been in effect since 1991. In Brooklyn, it is commonly known as FTAP, which stands for “Formal Trespass Affidavit Program”, in which landlords allow local cops to patrol their buildings.
“Operation Clean Halls has placed hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, mostly black and Latino, under siege in their own homes,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “For residents of Clean Halls Buildings, taking the garbage out or checking the mail can result in being thrown against the wall and humiliated by police. Untold numbers of people have been wrongly arrested for trespassing because they had the audacity to leave their apartments without IDs or visit friends and family who live in Clean Halls Buildings. This aggressive assault on people’s constitutional rights must be stopped.”
The NYCLU also criticized the management of the program, stating that there are no established criteria for selecting buildings to enroll in the program and there is no citywide list of buildings in the program.
The lawsuit is seeking an injunction requiring the NYPD to stop asking people inside and around Clean Halls Buildings for ID or about their destination without suspicion that they are trespassing or engaged in other wrongdoing and to stop arresting people for trespassing in Clean Halls Buildings without establishing whether or not the person is authorized to be there.
The suit also is asking the court to establish citywide standards for enrollment of buildings in Operation Clean Halls, implement training for officers who patrol clean halls buildings and establish a system to track and monitor the stops, searches, summonses and arrests made pursuant to Operation Clean Halls.
According to the lawsuit, “Illegal stops inside Clean Halls Buildings sometimes occur during floor-by-floor sweeps by NYPD officers, known as vertical patrols.”
In one year alone, about 240,000 vertical patrols were conducted in privately owned buildings by the NYPD. Several thousand buildings are in the program, in Manhattan, for example, there are about 3,895 Clean Halls Buildings.
It was on such a vertical patrol that the unarmed 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury was gunned down by police in 2004 – although that vertical was conducted in the Louis Armstrong Houses, a public housing complex.
According to NYPD data, since 2007, there have been 16,000 misdemeanor trespassing arrests in New York City annually. Between 2007 and 2010, more than 37 percent of trespassing arrest cases was resolved in favor of the accused.
In 2011, prosecutors declined to charge more than 13 percent of people arrested for trespassing in the city.
NYPD’s chief spokesman Paur Browne defended the program stating that the program provides a type of security for the building’s residents. “By challenging uninvited individuals, police are providing a level of safety to tenants that the residents of doormen buildings take for granted,” Browne stated.
Additional reporting by B. Sadlonova