(CBS/AP) A federal judge ruled Monday that the New York City Police Department's controversial stop-and-frisk policy, which has been criticized as racial profiling, violates individuals' constitutional rights because it intentionally discriminates based on race -- a significant judicial rebuke for what the mayor and police commissioner have defended as a life-saving, crime-fighting tool.
Instead of ordering an end to the practice, however, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin appointed an independent monitor to oversee changes to the policy.
Peter L. Zimroth, a onetime city lawyer and a former chief assistant district attorney, has been appointed as the monitor. In both roles, Zimroth worked closely with the NYPD, Scheindlin said.
The judge accused the police department's senior officials of violating the law "through their deliberate indifference to unconstitutional stops, frisks and searches."
"They have received both actual and constructive notice since at least 1999 of widespread Fourth Amendment violations occurring as a result of the NYPD's stop and frisk practices. Despite this notice, they deliberately maintained and even escalated policies and practices that predictably resulted in even more widespread Fourth Amendment violations," she wrote in a lengthy opinion.
She also cited violations of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
"Far too many people in New York City have been deprived of this basic freedom far too often," she said. "The NYPD's practice of making stops that lack individualized reasonable suspicion has been so pervasive and persistent as to become not only a part of the NYPD's standard operating procedure, but a fact of daily life in some New York City neighborhoods."
Four men had sued, saying they were unfairly targeted because of their race. There have been about 5 million stops during the past decade, mostly black and Hispanic men. Scheindlin issued her ruling after a 10-week bench trial for the class-action lawsuit, which included testimony from top NYPD brass and a dozen people -- 11 men and one woman -- who said they were wrongly stopped because of their race.
Scheindlin concluded that the plaintiffs had "readily established that the NYPD implements its policies regarding stop and frisk in a manner that intentionally discriminates based on race."
The case was the largest and most broad legal action against the policy at the nation's biggest police department, and may have an effect on how other police departments make street stops, legal experts said.
City lawyers argued the department does a good job policing itself with an internal affairs bureau, a civilian complaint board and quality assurance divisions.
The city had no immediate response to the ruling.