Political leaders in New York City have long made it a priority to lower the city's crime rate by cracking down on street-level offenses. As part of this, the New York City Police Department has adopted a controversial policy known as "stop-and-frisk." This policy involves stopping people who look like they may be involved in criminal activity and searching them for weapons or other contraband.

Many have criticized the policy, arguing that it is racist, ineffective and an unconstitutional incursion into the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy is currently pending in U.S. District Court.

The judge in the case is expected to issue her ruling soon. While the U.S. Justice Department has not taken a position in the case, it has asked the judge to appoint an independent monitor if she finds the stop-and-frisk policy to be unconstitutional. That monitor would be tasked with overseeing the NYPD's activities to ensure that they comply with constitutional protections.

The lawsuit is not the only effort to challenge stop-and-frisk. In late June, the New York City Council passed two bills aimed at curtailing the practice. The first would appoint an independent inspector general whose sole duty would be to oversee the practices of the NYPD. The second would expand the legal definition of racial profiling in order to give individuals who believe they were targeted on racial grounds to sue the police department. Mayor Bloomberg has said he will veto both bills; however, each passed with a majority sufficient to override the mayor's veto.

Racial bias in stop-and-frisk

Much of the concern regarding the stop-and-frisk program comes from the fact that racial minorities are targeted much more frequently than whites. According to data released by the mayor's office, 87 percent of stop-and-frisk targets in 2012 were black or Latino. By contrast, only 9 percent of individuals stopped under the policy were white.

In defending this data, Mayor Bloomberg said that the disparity existed because minority groups were more likely to be involved in serious violent crimes. He noted that approximately 90 percent of New York City murder suspects in 2012 were either black or Latino.

However, this disparity isn't backed up by the results of stop-and-frisk searches. Data released by the office of the New York Public Advocate shows that police were almost twice as likely to find a weapon when a white person was searched. Weapons were found in one out of every 49 stops involving a white person, compared with one out of every 93 stops involving a black person and one out of every 71 stops involving a Latino person. This has led many to believe that some individuals are being stopped solely because of their race.

Standing up for your rights

Every person in New York has a right to the protections afforded by the state and U.S. Constitutions. This includes the right to refuse to consent to a search.

However, in some situations, police have the authority to continue a search without the target's consent. If the police insist on conducting a search, remind them that you do not consent, but do not resist physically. Physical resistance will likely only cause further trouble.

If the search results in an arrest, it is important to contact an experienced defense attorney before submitting to questioning or entering a plea. The attorney will be able to review the circumstances of the arrest and can challenge any evidence that was obtained in violation of the constitution.