Wall Street Journal
November 1, 2014


Federal Court Greenlights New York Stop-and-Frisk Overhaul

Appeals Panel Rules Against Police Unions

By MARA GAY

New York City can move forward with a court-ordered overhaul of the police tactic known as stop and frisk after a federal appeals court Friday rejected an attempt by police unions to block the changes.

The ruling by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ability of Mayor Bill de Blasio ’s administration to drop an appeal of a lawsuit that accused the New York Police Department of systematically violating the civil rights of minorities with an aggressive program of street stops.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin last year ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered a host of changes, including a federal monitor for the NYPD. Mr. de Blasio campaigned on dropping the appeal of that ruling, which was begun by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg ’s administration.

The three-judge appeals court panel disagreed with the city’s police unions that had sought to join the lawsuit as a third party and keep the appeal alive. The unions argued that police officers would be put at risk by the stop-and-frisk changes.

Siding with the unions would disregard the results of the mayoral election and “encroach upon the city’s inherent discretion to settle a dispute against it,” the unanimous panel wrote in a 30-page ruling. The judges on the panel were John Walker, Jose Cabranes and Barrington Parker.

“Granting the unions’ motions in the wake of the November 2013 mayoral election would essentially condone a collateral attack on the democratic process and could erode the legitimacy of decisions made by the democratically‐elected representatives of the people,” the judges wrote.

Union officials said they were disappointed and were exploring their options, but an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court appeared unlikely.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said the union will “continue to monitor actions taken in this process moving forward to ensure that they do not violate the rights of New York City police officers.”

Under federal law, police officers are allowed to stop people whom they reasonably suspect of criminal behavior, ask questions and frisk them under certain circumstances. In New York City, millions of such stops were made during the Bloomberg administration, a period when crime dropped but community relations with police were deeply fraught.

The initial lawsuit was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2008, over a policing tactic in which the overwhelming majority of the police stops involved young black and Latino men.

Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter said the ruling Friday “clears the way for implementation of the remedial measures to which the City agreed as part of the stop-and-frisk litigation.”

Peter Zimroth, an attorney appointed by a federal judge to oversee stop-and-frisk changes, said he was preparing to be on the job “in the near future.”

Advocates for changing stop and frisk said they were hopeful the ruling would put an end to the legal battle over the policing tactic. “We can finally move forward,” said Baher Azmy, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Write to Mara Gay at mara.gay@wsj.com