New York police sued over residential building patrols

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly NYPD commissioner says the policy is no different than having a doorman .

Story highlights

  • NYCLU files lawsuit against NYC and NYPD officers over apartment patrol tactics
  • NYCLU says patrols unfairly target low-income communities and minorities
  • NYPD official says program provides increased safety for buildings' residents
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class action lawsuit Wednesday against the city of New York and several members of the New York Police Department, including Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, challenging the department's "Operation Clean Halls" program, the NYCLU announced.
"Operation Clean Halls has placed hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, mostly black and Latino, under siege in their own homes," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman in a press release Wednesday. "This aggressive assault on people's constitutional rights must be stopped."
The city-sponsored program offers police patrols in residential buildings in an attempt to prevent the use and sale of drugs, according to the official New York City website.
"Landlords can request that the police conduct patrols in the hallways and stairwells of their building to remove nonresidents who are loitering," the site states.
"By challenging uninvited individuals, police are providing a level of safety to tenants that residents of doormen buildings take for granted," Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said in a press release responding to the lawsuit.
Critics dispute the role of the program.
The program, which has existed since 1991, is part of a citywide police policy of "suspicionless" stops and arrests that disproportionally affect communities of color, according to the NYCLU.
The lawsuit says the NYPD program violates the U.S. and New York State Constitutions, New York common law and the federal Fair Housing Act, according to the court complaint provided by the NYCLU.
"The NYPD uses Clean Halls as a license to stop anybody, at any time, on suspicion of trespassing," NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Alexis Karteron, lead attorney on the case, said in the press release. "As a result, people who live in Clean Halls buildings are under constant threat of being stopped, frisked, harassed and even arrested by police officers. This type of activity has no place in a free society, and we're confident the courts will put a stop to it."
"There's a lot that we don't know about the program. It's really shrouded in secrecy and that's one of the problems about it," said Jen Carnig, NYCLU director of communications.
Enrollment in Operation Clean Halls, is widespread, with almost all private apartments in some areas of the Bronx and nearly 4,000 private buildings in Manhattan enrolled, the court complaint states.
"Landlords invite the police in to at least stop and talk to people who are uninvited into the building," Kelly told CNN affiliate NY1 on Wednesday. "This is the level of safety that people have who live in buildings with doormen. I would suspect that probably the attorneys involved in this case live in buildings with doormen."
"I believe the NYPD has a role to play in our community. But right now, they don't make us feel safe," Jacqueline Yates, one of the suit's plaintiffs, told the NYCLU. "We feel under attack in our homes."
The New York Civil Liberties Union is joined by the LatinoJustice PRLDEF and The Bronx Defenders in representing the lawsuit's 13 plaintiffs. The lawsuit seeks a declaration of unlawful practices and injunction against the defendants, and in addition to several changes in policy, it aims to award damages as compensation to the named plaintiffs.