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Judge names research group chief to help reform New York police 'stop and frisk' policy

Demonstrators march during a protest in New York June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Demonstrators march during a protest in New York June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

By Francesca Trianni

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday named the head of a nonprofit group to help the New York City Police Department reform its controversial "stop-question-and-frisk" policy, after ruling that aspects of the crime-fighting tactic were unconstitutional.

Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice, will work as a "facilitator" with police monitor Peter Zimroth to organize public meetings and come up with reforms.

Both attorneys were appointed by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin after she ruled last month that the policy of stopping, questioning and frisking individuals was unconstitutional because it targeted racially defined groups.

Turner will convene town hall meetings in New York's five boroughs with police, community members, and elected officials to ensure that the policy is carried out in a constitutional manner, the judge said.

He will also "work with the parties to develop a time line, ground rules, and concrete milestones" to reform the police-fighting practice, the judge said.

Turner, who will continue to head the Vera Institute, said in a statement that he will develop thoughtful and sustainable reforms.

"I look forward to working together with local communities, the NYPD, and other stakeholders in New York City on this important process," said the Yale Law School graduate.

"I believe that we all share the same goal: to feel that we and our families are safe in our homes and out on our streets."

At Vera, Turner has managed projects on racial profiling in prosecution, Scheindlin noted. The group works with local, state and national governments to improve systems that people rely on for justice and safety.

Previously, as managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation, Turner had also worked to promote racial and socioeconomic integration in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the judge said.

Scheindlin on Wednesday also ordered the NYPD to adopt a written policy specifying circumstances in which stops are authorized; and to set up a trial program requiring the use of body-worn cameras in one chosen precinct in each of the city's five boroughs.

Her remedies were proposed in response to lawsuits brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights against the NYPD.

"We are pleased that the court appointed Mr. Turner and we are eager to start working with him" said Chauniqua Young, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended stop-and-frisk, saying it has helped drastically reduce crime during his nearly 12-year tenure. The city appealed Scheindlin's decision last Tuesday to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Richard Chang)

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