Staten Island Advance
April 30, 2014

Police unions, city square off in court on racial profiling law

By Associated Press 

NEW YORK -- A New York City law easing the way for racial profiling claims against police could entangle them in lawsuits over elusive questions about what they were thinking when stopping someone, police unions told a judge Tuesday.

The unions faced off in a Manhattan court against lawyers for the city -- now including Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration, which has joined in defending a law that his predecessor sued to try to stop.

The 2013 law relaxes some legal standards for claims that the stop and frisk tactic or other police techniques were used in a discriminatory way.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association want the law struck down. They say that it intrudes on state criminal law and that it has a troublingly vague definition of profiling: using race or certain other characteristics "as the determinative factor" in policing.

"How do you decide what's in the police officer's mind as the deciding factor?" PBA lawyer James McGuire asked, calling the law a "trap that has so large a web that it could ensnare anyone."

The city says that the law is valid and valuable.

"The suggestion that the statute was passed to instill fear in the heart of the New York City police department is laughable. It's ridiculous," said Andrew Celli, a lawyer representing the City Council. "Good cops have nothing to fear from (the law)."

State Supreme Court Justice Anil Singh didn't indicate when he would rule.

The council passed the law last summer over then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto. Bloomberg vehemently defended both the surveillance and stop and frisk as legal and vital public safety tools, and he said the anti-profiling law would make it more difficult for police to do their jobs.

He sued the City Council, as did the PBA.

De Blasio dropped Bloomberg's suit last month, saying there was "absolutely no contradiction in protecting the public safety of New Yorkers and respecting their civil liberties." He also has abandoned the city's appeal of a federal court order demanding changes to the NYPD's use of stop and frisk.

The department said this month that it has disbanded a controversial unit that quietly tracked Muslims' daily lives in an effort to detect terror threats. Police officials said they now aim to get information through direct contact with community groups.