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Judge in NY 'stop and frisk' trial mulls cameras for police

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The federal judge who will rule in a class-action lawsuit accusing New York City police of racial profiling in their "stop and frisk" crime-fighting tactic expressed interest in having police officers wear cameras as the trial concluded on Monday.

"Everybody would know exactly what occurred" in a given stop, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said toward the end of closing arguments in the trial, which lasted more than nine weeks and produced an 8,000-page record.

The judge was referring to an expert witness for the city who testified recently about other cities trying wearable cameras.

"I'm intrigued by it," Scheindlin said.

Several other lawsuits have challenged stop and frisk, in which New York City police stop people they suspect of unlawful activity and frisk those they suspect are carrying weapons.

With closing arguments finished, Scheindlin is now set to rule on a lawsuit that is considered the broadest legal challenge yet.

The four black and Hispanic men who filed the lawsuit in 2008, including medical student David Floyd, claim police improperly targeted them because of their races. The suit also says it violates the right against unreasonable searches.

The plaintiffs, some of whom attended Monday's arguments, want the New York Police Department to reform its training of officers and its supervision of the practice. They also want the court to appoint an outside monitor to oversee the police department's compliance with any remedies Scheindlin orders.

Advocates of stop and frisk, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, say the police practices have helped to reduce crime.

The plaintiffs "failed to show a single constitutional violation" let alone a widespread practice of racial profiling in the 19 stops described by 12 witnesses they presented during the trial, Heidi Grossman, a lawyer for the city, said Monday.

Jonathan Moore, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, took issue on Monday with a recent speech to the NYPD in which Bloomberg defended stop and frisk in part by saying police need to be "first preventers."

"That's a very dangerous notion to instruct your police," Moore said. "What are the constitutional limits to being a 'first preventer?'"

In January, Scheindlin ordered certain stop and frisk searches in the Bronx halted because they violated the Constitution. She later lifted that order, saying it could impose "significant burdens" on the police.

During Monday's closing arguments, Scheindlin said she was troubled by statistics showing that the suspicion of criminal behavior in 90 percent of the stops turned out to be unfounded.

"That's a lot of misjudgment of suspicion," Scheindlin said.

Scheindlin did not say whether she would seriously consider ordering the police department to use wearable cameras if she rules against the city.

Cities with police departments that have used wearable cameras or are considering them include Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix, among others, according to an October 2012 review of shootings involving Las Vegas police officers by non-profit research organization CNA.

Though plaintiffs have not pushed for wearable cameras, Moore, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said they would "definitely consider" it.

The case is David Floyd et al v. The City of New York, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-1034.

(Reporting By Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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