The New York Civil Liberties Union, the Bronx Defenders and the LatinoJustice have filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD over it’s stop-and-frisk-type “Operation Clean Halls” program that has officers patrolling private apartment buildings.
The NYPD is being accused of violating residents’ rights and the rights of their guests. The lawsuit is seeking an established set of guidelines for buildings to enroll in the “Clean Halls” program, the end of arrests of individuals for trespassing, no more asking residents or residents guests for ID while inside buildings and the awarding of compensatory damages to the named plaintiffs.
The three groups are also seeking an injunction on the program until the NYPD sets new parameters for Clean Halls’ continuation.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Clean Halls came into existence in the early 1990s, with the purpose of combating criminal activity in apartment buildings in high-crime areas. According to the NYCLU, Manhattan has just under 3,900 Clean Hall buildings and almost every private apartment complex in the Bronx participates in the program. Police officers patrol the floors and lobbies of buildings and stop, question and sometimes frisk anyone they come across inside the building.
Robin Steinberg, executive director of the Bronx Defenders, and McGregor Smyth, lawyer for the Bronx Defenders, spoke with the AmNews about their clients’ experiences with Clean Halls.
“The issue in the Bronx in particular is that in some neighborhoods, every private building is enrolled in the Clean Halls program,” said Smyth. “And what we’ll see is the police will swarm certain buildings and occupy the lobby and arrest people or sit outside of the building and arrest people walking by or patrol the hallways, stop residents and search them.”
Smyth also said some teens visiting friends in certain buildings are stopped, asked who they are visiting and if they can’t provide the last name of the friend, they are arrested for trespassing.
When asked if this program, along with surveillance of Muslims and street stop-and-frisk policies, reflect a bigger issue with the NYPD, Steinberg said, “I think that this is part of a campaign by the NYPD to over-police poor communities and people of color. We think it’s part of the larger strategy of the NYPD from top to bottom.”
Paul Browne, deputy commissioner of the NYPD, made the following statement about the program in an email to the AmNews:
“By challenging uninvited individuals, police are providing a level of safety to tenants that residents of doormen buildings take for granted,”
“Nobody feels safe when their children or grandchildren are being arrested without cause,” Steinberg said. “It leads people to believe that the police are more dangerous. This is not the kind of police activity that leads to safety. It leads to animosity between residents and cops. If it happened in another neighborhood—an affluent, white neighborhood—it would be unacceptable.”
“The primary goal is to make sure that the police follow the law and our clients are able to do laundry without having to show ID or go to a corner bodega without being under the threat of arrest or visit their neighbors so they can create that sense of community they desire,” said Smyth.