A federal judge on Monday said that New York City's controversial "stop and frisk" policy intentionally discriminates based on race and appointed an outside monitor to implement reforms to police practices.

The ruling came after four men sued the New York Police Department, arguing officers had unfairly targeted them for search because of their race. A federal judge said the program systematically and deliberately led 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," U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin said in a ruling obtained by The Associated Press.


The federal judge said that officers routinely overstepped their authority to stop and investigate those acting suspiciously, noting that 88 percent of frisks resulted in the police letting an individual go without an arrest or ticket.

Scheindlin appointed Peter L. Zimroth, a former assistant district attorney, as a federal monitor charged with overseeing changes to the program.

Critics of "stop and frisk" have maintained that the program unfairly targets racial minorities, noting that the majority of those stopped are black and Hispanic men.

But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly have defended the program as an important crime-fighting tool, arguing the city has become safer since the program was implemented.

The controversy surrounding the program could be a lightning rod if President Obama nominates Kelly as the next Homeland Security Secretary, a possibility Obama has floated.

In an interview with a New York Univision affiliate, Obama said he'd "want to know" if Kelly was interested in the job.

"Mr. Kelly might be very happy where he is, but if he's not, I'd want to know about it because obviously he'd be very well-qualified for the job," Obama said.

Obama went on to describe Kelly as "one of the best there is" and an "outstanding leader in New York."

"Ray Kelly's obviously done an extraordinary job in New York, and the federal government partners a lot with New York," Obama said.