By Terry Baynes
(Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday granted class-action status to a lawsuit seeking to stop the New York Police Department from conducting some "stop and frisk" searches of people outside certain residential buildings in the city's Bronx borough.
District Judge Shira Scheindlin found that a group of black and Latino residents in the Bronx could bring claims on behalf of a class of hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people at risk of being stopped outside the buildings.
The lawsuit contends that the practice, in which police stop and question people they suspect of unlawful activity and frisk those they suspect of carrying weapons, violates the U.S. Constitution.
On January 8, Scheindlin ordered that some stops related to an anti-crime program once known as "Operation Clean Halls" must be halted immediately. Officers would have to have "reasonable suspicion" that an individual is engaged in criminal activity to make a stop, she ruled.
But Scheindlin placed that order on hold on January 22, while the city pursues an appeal.
Defenders of the tactics, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, say the police practices have helped to reduce crime.
The plaintiffs requested class-action status to ensure that any temporary ban on the program would apply to all people at risk of being stopped outside the Bronx apartment buildings, Monday's opinion said.
The New York City Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Terry Baynes in New York; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Mohammad Zargham)