Bill De Blasio Withdraws Legal Challenge to Anti-Profiling Law

de blasioIn a move demonstrating his commitment to improving relations between residents and police in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that he will withdraw a legal challenge to an anti-profiling law. The measure is expected to make it easier to sue the police in racial profiling cases by relaxing legal standards for claims of bias in the use of stop-and-frisk or other techniques. Such suits would not be allowed to seek monetary damages, only policy changes.

Mayor de Blasio’s action is the second in a sequence of legal moves, following on the heels of his withdrawal of Mayor Bloomberg’s appeal of a ruling by a federal judge finding that police used discriminatory practices against minorities with its “stop-and-frisk” policy. Mayor Bloomberg strongly advocated the policy which was employed prolifically by the New York City Police: more than five million stops were made over a decade, overwhelmingly of minorities. 10 percent of the stops resulted in summonses or arrests; only two percent ever turned up weapons.

The story begins when…

Four men brought a lawsuit against the NYPD in 2008, alleging they were targeted based on their race. Judge Shira Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court heard testimony over a 10-week bench trial from other New Yorkers who also said they were unfairly targeted. In agreement, Judge Scheindlin imposed a court-appointed monitor for overseeing reforms, but the ruling was on hold pending the appeal. The judge also ordered an overhaul of the department’s policy on stopping, questioning, and searching people in public. In an unusual move, which complicated the issue somewhat, the federal appeals court had Scheindlin removed, citing the misapplication of a ruling that allowed her to sit for the case, and  inappropriate comments she had made in public regarding the case.

De Blasio’s legal actions did not come as a surprise: he had successfully campaigned on promises to renovate the NYPD’s image in the communities it serves, particularly among minorities. The tumultuous legal battle is rather convoluted, involving not just the NYPD and Mayor de Blasio, but also former Mayor Bloomberg, the New York City Council, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, and the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association. This is a breakdown of the issue and the players on either side.

On the one hand…

The anti-profiling law originated out of concerns that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics unfairly targeted black and Latino minorities. The New York City Council passed the anti-profiling law, despite a veto from Mr. Bloomberg, who then, along with the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association, sued the Council, while the PBA filed its own lawsuit.  Those opposing the anti-profiling law argue that the law puts policemen at risk by discouraging their use of law enforcement tactics designed to protect their safety. Mr. Bloomberg also argued that there was a state law already on the books that makes the practice of racial-profiling illegal.  Calling the anti-profiling law “misguided,” the PBA indicated that it will pursue its lawsuit despite de Blasio’s withdrawal of the appeal.

On the other hand…

Mr. de Blasio takes a holistic view of the issue, arguing that the anti-profiling law will ultimately make the city safer by strengthening the partnership between police and community.  He took a strong tone against racial discrimination in New York City, citing the need to simultaneously protect both the public safety of the citizens and their civil liberties.  The NAACP and the New York Civil Liberties Union praised de Blasio for withdrawing the legal challenge to the anti-profiling law. NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman hailed the ban on racial profiling, and echoed de Blasio, stating that “trust and respect” for the police will make for a safer New York; trust and respect being contingent on all New Yorkers receiving equal treatment by the police.  Hazel Dukes, president of the New York NAACP hailed it as a “victory for the people of New York City.” The Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, Robert Gangi, of the Urban Justice Center, applauded de Blasio for fulfilling his pledge to end the stop-and-frisk policy.  Said Gangi, the quality of life will improve for New Yorkers, especially low-income young black and Latino men.  Ydanis Rodriguez a City Council member looks forward to a healing process for communities affected by the unconstitutional practice.

At this time…

Jonathan Moore, attorney for one of plaintiffs, said de Blasio’s decision to drop the appeal vindicated Judge Scheindlin’s findings, providing an opportunity for the NYPD to reform policies and practices that were unconstitutional in their application. Since the city dropped the appeal to Judge Scheindlin’s ruling, the police unions have requested to take over the appeal, saying the finding of discrimination has tarnished the image of the nation’s largest police force. The appeals court refused this action by the unions and returned the case to a lower court for 45 days to explore a “full resolution.”

Future plans include…

As part of a program to improve the image of the police in the eyes of the public, the Mayor unveiled a training program called “Ambassadors of the NYPD,” designed to enhance police-community relations. The program will set standards for police etiquette when dealing with the public, such as calling people “sir” or “ma’am”; and avoiding drinking, gum chewing, smoking, and the use of cellphones when on a call.

Police Commissioner Bratton is eager to see the reforms implemented, saying De Blasio’s decision to drop the legal challenge to the anti-profiling law will make possible the establishment of formal guidelines for respectful, compassionate, and constitutional policing. Bratton said he has already begun to consider requiring police officers to wear body cameras to monitor their interaction with the public, as is done by the LAPD, although police unions are expected to put up a fight.

By Laura Prendergast


Wall Street Journal

Washington Post


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