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New Yorkers can sue NYPD over stop-and-frisk

Khorri Atkinson | 6/26/2014, 3:49 p.m.
NYPD Photo by Bill Moore

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) and the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association (SBA), two unions that represent NYPD officers, have attempted to block the Community Safety Act, which was passed into law last year by the City Council despite a veto from former Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The act makes it easier for New Yorkers to sue the NYPD for racial profiling. State Supreme Court Justice Anil Singh tossed the unions’ legal challenge and said the city’s ban on racial profiling is constitutional.

“Local Law 71 does not prevent police officers from continuing to stop, question and frisk while utilizing their training and experience,” wrote Singh. “The law only seeks to deter the use of attributes such as race as the sole basis for an investigatory stop, which is antithetical to our constitution and values. Race may not be the only factor in the law enforcement action taken against an individual.”

In response to Singh’s ruling, New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman applauded the “victory” in a public statement and asserted that the move will help build trust and respect between officers and the communities they serve.

“We’re pleased the court has rejected the PBA’s attempt to scuttle the city’s ban on racial profiling,” said Lieberman. “This law provides an important opportunity for New Yorkers who are subject to racial profiling or other discriminatory behavior the opportunity to vindicate their rights and make real reform without allowing anyone to sue for financial gain.”

But despite Singh’s ruling, PBA President Patrick Lynch announced that the union will file an appeal.

“We strongly disagree with the judge’s decision. This law sends an extremely bad message to our police officers, who will see themselves in legal crosshairs with every arrest they make. Potentially, this bad law can have a very serious impact on public safety,” said Lynch.

However, Singh argued that the Community Safety Act is not the City Council’s first attempt to stop “alleged bias-based police profiling practices.”

“In 2004, the City Council passed the Racial or Ethnic Profiling Prohibition Law with the support of Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD. However, the ban on profiling was apparently not sufficient to deter the practice. The City Council cited the sharp rise in stops by the police since the ban was in effect,” he wrote.

“In 2002, the NYPD made approximately 97,000 stops,” Singh added. “By 2010, the number of stops had increased to more than 601,000.”

He stated that Blacks and Latinos “face the brunt of this practice” and represent more than 80 percent of people stopped, despite representing just over 50 percent of the city’s population.

“As a result, the City Council renewed its interest in legislating against racial and ethnic profiling,” he said. He reiterated that the law doesn’t prohibit or restrict the right of a police officer to make a stop; rather, it’s meant to address the issue of biased-based profiling by the NYPD.

Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped the lawsuit Bloomberg filed against the City Council. Bloomberg argued that the anti-profiling law would make it more difficult for officers to do their jobs. De Blasio refuted Bloomberg’s argument, stating that there is “absolutely no contradiction in protecting the public safety of New Yorkers and respecting their civil liberties.”

De Blasio has also abandoned the city’s appeal of a federal court order demanding changes to the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk.