NY1: Lawsuit Claims NYPD “Clean Halls” Program Violates Civil Rights

Civil rights advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the New York City Police Department over a controversial program that allows officers to patrol private apartment buildings.

The suit, submitted by the New York Civil Liberties Union, Latino Justice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, as well as lawyers with the Bronx Defenders, allege the department’s “Clean Halls” program has violated the constitutional rights of thousands of New Yorkers, especially in minority groups.

They say 94 percent of people arrested under the program are black or Latino.

The group says tenants and their guests in “Clean Halls” buildings across the city fear frequent and unwarranted stop-and-frisk arrests.

They say some tenants are afraid to leave their apartments just to get their mail, take out the trash or go to the store without having ID on them.

Several parents who attended today’s press conference say they fear mostly for the young men in their communities, even as they walk around their own neighborhoods where they have a right to be and walk freely.

“I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched police throw my son and his friends up against the wall and I have to run downstairs and just keep running and running, stopping them from harassing these kids who are just sitting in their own courtyard where they live at,” said Bronx resident Fawn Gracy.

“We’re not pitting landlords’ rights versus tenants’ rights, we’re pitting tenants’ rights versus NYPD. Because even if the landlord were to tell the police department, ‘Please help me stop crime in my building,’ that doesn’t give police carte blanche to stop every person who walks in the building, out of the building. No individualized suspicion,” said Juan Cartagena of Latino Justice PRLDEF.

Advocacy groups say a majority of buildings in the Bronx and 3,000 in Manhattan are currently part of the “Clean Halls” program.

According to the lawsuit, it’s been in place since the 1990’s to help protect neighborhoods that were seeing spikes in crime.

The lawsuit goes on to say very little is known about how the buildings are chosen and whether landlords who choose to join the program inform tenants thoroughly.

Additionally, it says a significant number of misdemeanor trespassing charges are eventually dropped or resolved by prosecutors.

While speaking to reporters at an unrelated event today, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly credited the program and says it’s a valuable service.

“Landlords invite the police in to at least stop and talk to people who are uninvited in the building. This is the level of safety that people have in buildings with doormen. I would suspect the attorneys involved in this case live in buildings with doormen,” Kelly said.

In response to Kelly’s remarks, NYCLU President Donna Lieberman said, in part, “As one who doesn’t live in a doorman building and who has been mugged in my lobby, I can tell you that there’s no way I’d want my son subjected to police harassment every time he goes to the corner store, which is what happens to young men of color who live in ‘Clean Halls’ buildings every day.”

By Vivian Lee

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