New York Daily News

June 18, 2014


 

Public allowed to sue NYPD cops over stop-and-frisk profiling, state judge rules


City police unions have failed in their attempt to prevent NYPD officers from being sued by people targeted by the city's stop-and-frisk policy.

By Barbara Ross

City police unions have failed in their attempt to block a local law that makes it easier for the public to sue cops for racial profiling.

State Supreme Court Justice Anil Singh, in a decision released Wednesday, upheld the Community Safety Act passed by the City Council last year.

The Council’s legislation was neither too vague nor was it preempted by state criminal procedure law, as its opponents had charged, Singh ruled.

The Manhattan judge also rejected a request from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Sergeant's Benevolent Association to issue an injunction against the measure.

“Local Law 71 does not prevent police officers from continuing to stop, question and frisk while utilizing their training and experience,” Singh wrote in a 35-page decision that surfaced late Wednesday.

“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,” the judge wrote, adding that the court understood cops had to make “split-second decisions” when conducting investigative stops.

New York Civil Liberties Union president Donna Lieberman said the local law was an imortant tool not just for citizens but for cops too. 

"It is a victory for all New Yorkers, including the police, because it is building trust and respect between officers and the communities they serve," she noted.

"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," she added.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has given his full support to the City Council measure, which was apparent from the reaction Wednesday from the city’s Law Department.

“We are pleased with the court's decision,” a spokesman for the department said.

De Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, had sided with the unions in trying to fight it.

PBA president Pat Lynch said his organization would appeal Singh's ruling. 

"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," Lynch said. 

The unions had insisted that only the state legislature has the power “to regulate stop, question and frisk.”

They argued that the City Council did not have the power to make such rules.

“This court disagrees,” Singh wrote. “The City Council passed Local Law 71 to address a local concern relating to civil rights and police activities. The law does not prohibit or restrict the right of a police officer to make a stop ... Rather it addresses the consequences of biased-based profiling by law enforcement personnel.”

Singh said the Council passed the measure because there was a huge increase in stop-and-frisk encounters between 2002 and 2010; minorities were stopped disproportionately and 90% of the stops did not result in an arrest.

The judge noted that communities around the state have enacted local civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination and the state constitutions gives them the power to do that.

Singh said that the state’s criminal procedure law, in contrast, regulates the prosecution of accused criminals and sets forth their rights in the process.

Joo-Hyun Kang, spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, applauded Singh for rejecting the “baseless” arguments from the police unions and the former administration.

“New Yorkers know that it should be unlawful for police to target them solely based on who they are — whether race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, housing or immigration status — and today the court confirmed it,” Kang said.