February 3, 2014

De Blasio Agrees To Settle City Appeal In Stop-and-Frisk Case

Would End Federal Oversight In Three Years If NYPD Implements Reforms

By Mark Toor

Mayor de Blasio took a giant step Jan. 30 toward ending a controversial chapter in the history of the city’s policing, announcing an agreement to settle the appeal of a Federal court’s decision on stop, question and frisk that keeps in place the court-ordered Federal monitor and community input into reforms.

“The values and the strategies that keep people safe, and that really give us lasting safety, those values are not compatible with a broken and misused stop-and-frisk policy,” Mr. de Blasio said at a press conference in Brooklyn’s Brownsville section, a few square blocks of which had the highest concentration of stops in the city.

‘Fix What is Broken’

“Neither the Police Commissioner nor I believe it is acceptable when 90 percent of the people stopped and frisked are innocent of any crime,” he continued. “And so we are taking significant corrective action to fix what is broken.”

The agreement would leave in place U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s decision that the way the NYPD conducted stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional. She ordered a series of remedies that an appeals court delayed while the Bloomberg administration appealed her ruling. They include changes in record-keeping, training, supervision and discipline, to be overseen by the monitor, former Corporation Counsel Peter Zimroth.

One wild card remained: The five police unions have filed requests with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to intervene in the case, hoping to keep the appeal alive even if the city drops it. The court had not ruled on those requests by last week.

PBA: 'Serious Concern'

“We have expected this action from the Mayor and are waiting for a decision from the courts that determines our ability to continue the appeal,” Roy Richter, president of the Captains’ Endowment Association, said after Mr. de Blasio’s announcement. “If the court rules in our favor, we will re-evaluate our position and the appropriate manner in which to proceed given the city’s withdrawal.”

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said, “Our mission is now and has always been to protect the rights and safety of our members while they work to protect our communities. We continue to have serious concerns about how these remedies will impact our members and the ability to do their jobs. Our goal is to continue to be involved in the process in order to give voice to our members and to make every effort to ensure that their rights are protected.”

Mr. de Blasio did not address the unions’ efforts at his press conference. “The agreement we’re announcing today accepts the facts and the road map laid out in last August’s landmark Federal court ruling,” he said. “Those points include: one, a joint and ongoing reform process with direct police-community dialogue

...Two, there will be for three years a court-appointed monitor to ensure the Police Department’s compliance with the U.S. Constitution.”

'Make Us Safer Still'

Stealing a favorite theme of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, Mr. de Blasio said his move “will lay the foundation for not only keeping us the safest big city in America, but making us safer still. This will be one city, where everyone’s rights are respected, and where police and community stand together to confront violence.”

“We will not break the law to enforce the law,” said Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, who joined Mr. de Blasio at the announcement. “That’s my solemn promise to every New Yorker, regardless of where they were born, where they live, or what they look like. Those values aren’t at odds with keeping New Yorkers safe—they are essential to long-term public safety. We are committed to fulfilling our obligations under this agreement as we protect and serve this great city.”

He said overuse of stop-and-frisk, which under Mr. Bloomberg had climbed each year until reaching a high of 684,000 in 2011, had torn apart the connection between the police and the community. “We need to repair it,” he said.

City lawyers filed papers with the Second Circuit on the day of the press conference asking it to remand the two cases at issue, Floyd v. New York and Ligon v. New York, to U.S. District Court, where the trial took place, so a settlement can be worked out.

A 3-Year Oversight

Attorneys for both the city and the plaintiffs have agreed to recommend that the Federal monitor will have oversight of reform of the stop-and-frisk process for three years, after which he will cease operations if the NYPD is in substantial compliance with the changes she ordered.

Once that resolution has been confirmed by the District Court, the city will withdraw its appeal, Mr. de Blasio’s office said. At the press conference, Mr. de Blasio said that while most Federal monitors have a lifespan of more than three years, the Inspector General approved by the City Council last summer over Mr. Bloomberg’s veto would take on the oversight burden. Judge Scheindlin’s order did not put a time limit on the existence.

In addition, the Judge selected a facilitator, Vera Institute of Justice president Nicholas Turner, to help Mr. Zimroth develop long-term fixes for the stop-and-frisk program. Among Mr. Turner’s duties will be to hold town-hall-type meetings in every borough at which community residents will talk with political and police officials, the Judge ordered.

Legal Basis for Stops

After a 10-week trial in the Floyd case, Judge Scheindlin ruled that hundreds of thousands of stops made by NYPD officers did not meet the standard upheld in 1968 by the U.S. Supreme Court: that in order to justify stopping someone police must be able to articulate a reasonable suspicion that he or she was involved or was about to be involved in a crime.

Instead, she found, the department was stopping people from the same racial or ethnic group as most suspects described by crime victims, which she said was “indirect racial profiling,” a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Her decision was vehemently criticized by Mr. Bloomberg and his Police Commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, who attacked her in personal terms as both biased against the police and indifferent to the crime threat in poorer neighborhoods. They insisted that virtually all the stops made by NYPD officers were constitutional (although Mr. Kelly admitted in a later Playboy interview that mistakes were sometimes made).

Cited Deterrent Effect

The two men maintained that stop-and-frisk was a key hammer in the toolbox the NYPD used to drive crime to record lows. They said frequent stop-and-frisks discouraged young men from carrying guns that could be used to settle disputes in the heat of the moment.

Critics of the program—who included Mr. de Blasio when he was Public Advocate—said it was driven less by reasonable suspicion than by unreasonable quotas set by precinct commanders desperate to show the NYPD’s high command that they were aggressively fighting crime. Almost 90 percent of those stopped were young black or Latino men; fewer than 6 percent of then were arrested.

The Bloomberg administration appealed Judge Scheindlin’s decision, and the Second Circuit panel hearing the case agreed to the city’s request to put her reforms on hold during the appeals process. The panel also removed her from the case, saying that while she had done nothing overtly wrong, the appearance of impartiality was compromised.

Stops Fell; So Did Murders

Meanwhile, the number of stop-and-frisks began declining sharply in the second quarter of 2012 as criticism of the practice mounted. Major crimes, especially homicides, continued to decline as well. Mr. de Blasio promised during last fall’s mayoral campaign that he would drop the appeal.

Civil-liberties groups praised last week’s announcement. Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a plaintiff in the Floyd case, said, “Today is the beginning of a long-overdue process: the reform of the NYPD to end illegal and racially discriminatory policing.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, a plaintiff in the Ligon case, said, “We understand that the culture of the largest police force in the country cannot change overnight. But we believe in the good will and good intention of the new administration and look forward to working together to make New York City a place where the police protect both safety and individual rights.”

“We look forward to working to ensure that once the remedial process begins, we are able to create enduring changes that will help achieve true safety with dignity for all New Yorkers,” said Joo-Hyun Kan, a spokeswoman for Communities United for Police Reform.

Praise From Council

Several members of the City Council, which last summer approved two bills over Mr. Bloomberg’s veto that were aimed at reining in stop-and-frisk, reacted positively.

“Today’s news is long overdue for New York’s communities of color who for too long were being disproportionally stopped and frisked,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander co-sponsored the Community Safety Act, which contained the Inspector General bill and another one expanding the right of people who claim they were victims of police profiling to sue.

“Dropping the appeal is a great first step,” Mr. Williams said. “Still, the job isn’t done. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association are attempting to continue to keep New Yorkers in a state of confusion by intervening to keep the suit alive. They should abandon these efforts.”

“New Yorkers want a police department that does target us simply because of our race, religion, or other aspects of our identity,” Mr. Lander said. “It is morally wrong and makes us less safe.”