January 30, 2014

De Blasio, stop-and-frisk foes in settlement deal


Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a planned settlement Thursday with civil liberties lawyers who had sued the Bloomberg administration to challenge the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices as unconstitutional racial profiling.

Under the agreement, which requires federal court approval, the police department would take steps -- as de Blasio promised in his campaign last year -- to reform the practice. A court-appointed monitor would oversee compliance.

De Blasio would drop the city's appeal of a federal judge's ruling that sided with stop-and-frisk critics.

"We are taking significant corrective action to fix what is broken," de Blasio said at a news conference in Brownsville, Brooklyn -- among the neighborhoods that have had the city's greatest proportions of police stops, according to NYPD statistics.

De Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, fought the ruling until his last days in office, arguing the tactic as carried out under his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, was crucial to fight crime.

De Blasio's commissioner, William Bratton, disagreed.

"We will not break the law to enforce the law," Bratton said. "That's my solemn promise to every New Yorker."

The administration is agreeing to adopt last summer's findings of U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, whose 198-page ruling ordered changes on how police officers are trained, disciplined and supervised. She also installed a monitor, Peter Zimroth, and ordered a pilot program requiring officers in certain high-stop precincts to wear surveillance cameras, and told the department to hold forums where citizens could speak up.

The city's top lawyer, Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter, said one of the few changes to Scheindlin's order under the proposed settlement would be a three-year limit on the term of the court-appointed monitor. Scheindlin did not set a time limit.

De Blasio and other officials said the agreement with groups that sued on behalf of targets of street stops marked a "historic" effort to do away with a tactic that drew complaints from blacks and Latinos.

De Blasio made his announcement alongside Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Vincent Warren, lawyers who have long battled the city over stop-and-frisk.

"Of course we understand that the culture of the largest police force in the country cannot change overnight, but we all know that change starts with the message from the top," Lieberman said. "And we believe in the good will and the good intentions of the new administration. What a change."

Warren, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which sued the city, said details of how the tactics would change must still be worked out.

"Nobody standing here is pretending this is mission accomplished," Warren said. "The problem has not been solved."

The city will not try to return the case to Scheindlin, who was removed last year by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for an appearance of bias and replaced by Judge Analisa Torres. Scheindlin's removal and a bid by police unions to keep the appeal alive without the city are still before the appeals court.

Shortly after the city filed its request yesterday to return the case to the trial court for settlement purposes, the head of the same three-judge panel of the appeals court that removed Scheindlin asked for a response by Feb. 7 from the police unions, indicating that the court hasn't yet dismissed efforts to keep the case alive.

A spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the largest police union, said Thursday its lawyers were mulling over de Blasio's announcement.

PBA president Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement he had "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."