Federal court clears way for stop-and-frisk reforms 

Khorri Atkinson | 11/6/2014, 2:10 p.m.
New York City can now move forward and implement its reform measures to overhaul the NYPD’s controversial practice of stop-and-frisk ...
Protestors marching through Harlem on Father's Day, 2012, to protest against the NYPD's "stop-and-frisk" policy.

New York City can now move forward and implement its reform measures to overhaul the NYPD’s controversial practice of stop-and-frisk after a federal appeals court rejected police unions’ motions last Friday to block the changes. 

The ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan also confirmed Mayor Bill de Blasio administration’s request to drop its appeal of the lawsuit, Floyd vs. City of New York, which found that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practice unlawfully targets people of color and violates their civil rights.

Last August, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD misused the stop-and-frisk policy, which makes it unconstitutional. She said the department used it as an “indirect policy of racial profiling.” She ordered reform measures, including the appointment of an independent federal monitor to oversee the department’s use of stop-and-frisk for three years. She also said at least one precinct in each borough should allow body cameras on police officers for at least one year.

In response to the ruling, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed an appeal. Two police unions—the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Detectives Endowment Association—backed Bloomberg in an effort for the court to pursue the appeal request. But less than two months after he took office, de Blasio dropped the city’s appeal. At the time, he said, “The city will resolve the years long legal battle with plaintiffs.”

In a 30-page ruling last Friday, the three-judge panel said the police unions were trying to initiate a “collateral attack on the democratic process” in response to de Blasio’s mayoral campaign promise to reform the controversial practice the Police Department uses.

“Granting the unions’ motions in the wake of the November 2013 mayoral election … could erode the legitimacy of decisions made by the democratically elected representatives of the people,” the ruling read. 

Since they took office, de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton used Scheindlin’s ruling as a blueprint to implement reform measures, such as a pilot program for police body cameras, and ways to build trust between communities of color and the police. 

The panel gave the unions seven days to seek review by the full Second Circuit. However, according to a public statement after the ruling, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association didn’t note plans to appeal.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said his union “will continue to monitor actions taken in this process moving forward to ensure that they do not violate” officers’ rights.

The lawyers who filed the lawsuits, including those from the Center for Constitutional Rights, lauded the appeals panel’s decision. 

“Today’s ruling confirms the unions cannot claim they are harmed by court orders simply requiring them to comply with the Constitution,” said Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Now, after the unions’ unnecessary obstructionism, all New Yorkers can work together to end racially discriminatory policing and bring meaningful reform and accountability to the NYPD.” 

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres, who will oversee the reform process.