Can the Police Conduct Sweeps to Clear People Off the Streets?

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the city of Memphis can no longer conduct sweeps to clear people off Beale Street unless public safety requires it.

U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla issued his ruling in June 2015, ending a police practice that has existed for years in which officers “sweep” the street to clear people off or push them into clubs, usually in the early morning hours of weekends.

After McCalla’s decision, the city appealed. In October 2016, the Sixth Circuit ruled.

“The jury found that the city implemented its street-sweeping policy without consideration of whether conditions throughout the Beale Street area posed an existing, imminent or immediate threat to public safety. Based on the jury’s findings, the district court found the policy unconstitutional under strict scrutiny, entered an injunction and ordered other equitable relief on behalf of the class,” the ruling read. “For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the district court.”

A primary reason the court cited was that a citizen has the right to “travel locally through public spaces and roadways.” The city argued that the sweeps have only a minimal affect, if any, on that right.

The opinion can be found here.


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