A report commissioned by ProPublica and the New York Daily News highlights a corrupt trend regularly exercised by the New York Police Department.
Released on Monday, the findings show that police officers regularly evicted innocent—and oftentimes low-income—individuals who were residing in a home that was “being used for illegal purposes” or who were living with someone who was allegedly involved in drugs or gambling. Individuals who have been arrested but never convicted also fall victim to eviction.
“The law does not require criminal conviction, does not require [a] particular disposition of a criminal case, does not even require an arrest of anyone [before they are evicted],” NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne said in an interview with the Daily News last year.
Originally authored in the 1970s, the law, which gives cops the right to shut down businesses and evict individuals if illegal activity is suspected, was designed to combat brothels in the city. However, through the years, it has been used to target an increasing number of minority households.
In the majority of cases, officers who suspect illegal activity obtain a court order that effectively bars individuals from entering their homes until the incident is resolved, which can take months. Oftentimes, officers don’t have grounds to arrest the individual; they simply claim that they are investigating the location, leaving tenants searching for alternative housing.
According to the research, nearly 150 of the 297 residents who were kicked out of their homes between January 2013 and June 2014 had never been convicted of a crime. In 74 of the cases on record, individuals allowed authorities to search their homes without a warrant on the condition that they would be permitted to move back in, and an overwhelming majority of the evictions were against residents of color.
“I think it’s wrong,” former city official Sidney Baumgarten, who authored the original law, said to the Daily News. “I think it’s unconstitutional. I think it’s overreaching. They’re giving up their constitutional rights. And why? Because they’re afraid they’re going to be evicted from their home with their children. There’s a certain amount of compulsion and threat and coercion by the very nature of the process they’re using.”
The report’s authors reach out to the NYPD, who declined to answer questions regarding specific cases.