New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, fulfilling a campaign promise, said the city reached a settlement with plaintiffs who sued to stop the police department’s stop-and-frisk practice, which a federal court found illegally targeted blacks and Latinos.
“We’re here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive problems in our city,” de Blasio said today at a news briefing in Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn where use of the tactic has been among the most frequent. “We believe in one city where everyone rises together. We believe in respecting every New Yorker’s rights, regardless of what neighborhood they live in or the color of their skin.”
The city asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York to send the case back to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres for 45 days “to permit the parties to explore a resolution.” Jeffrey Friedlander, the city’s acting corporation counsel, said the plaintiffs in the two cases agreed with the request.
Once an agreement has been confirmed by the court, the city will withdraw an appeal by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who sought to reverse a ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin that found that stop-and-frisk violated the Constitution. A court-appointed monitor will oversee changes to the practice for three years and residents most affected will help shape a new policy, said de Blasio, a 52-year-old Democrat.
The announcement brings the debate over stop-and-frisk closer to a resolution after more than a decade of court challenges. It also caps a first month in office during which de Blasio has sought to begin an “era of progressive change” after winning election by 49 points, the biggest margin by a non-incumbent in city history. He’s fought to boost taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten and reached a deal with the city council to require more businesses to provide paid sick days.
The mayor, whose early opposition to the policy helped him win the Democratic primary, said the decision would make the city safer by allowing Police Commissioner William Bratton to establish clearer guidelines and begin to repair police-community relations. It marks a reversal of the position taken by Bloomberg, who credited stop-and-frisk with driving down crime during his 12-year tenure.
The “overuse” of stop-and-frisk had grown out of control, de Blasio said. Of 4.3 million such searches in a nine-year period2, more than 80 percent were of blacks and Latinos, according to the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, a plaintiff in the federal suit. Fewer than 1 percent of those stops led to recovery of a gun, the center said.
The court monitor will serve in addition to an inspector general, a separate post created by the city council last year to review police practices. Critics, including Bloomberg, said the post would hinder patrol officers’ ability to make split-second decisions on the street, rendering it more difficult to fight crime and terrorism.
De Blasio lauded today’s decision as a “moment of profound progress” that will end a period during which young black and Hispanic males were treated as though their rights didn’t matter, he said.
Police had to abide by a de facto quota system even as crime rates fell, scarring their relationships with the public, Bratton, who took over the 34,000-officer department this month, said at the briefing. The change will help rebuild trust and communication, he said.
Police have operated in a “no-man’s land” even as they’ve curbed the use of stop-and-frisk, he said. The agreement will help establish guidelines so officers clearly understand how to police constitutionally, respectfully and compassionately, he said.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that while change won’t happen overnight, it was significant that it began at the top.
The Reverend Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, called it “a breakthrough moment, because it underscores the City of New York’s commitment to stop a pattern of racial profiling that has been clothed in stop-and-frisk policing.”
Following the appeal by the Bloomberg administration, the appeals court in November delayed enforcement of Scheindlin’s ruling and removed her from the case, saying her actions ran afoul of the federal judges’ code of conduct. The former mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
The three-judge panel froze enforcement of the changes she ordered, including appointment of the independent monitor.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and other police unions on Dec. 30 asked the appeals court to continue reviewing the measures Scheindlin put in place.
In a Dec. 30 letter to court, several New York City police unions said “the new mayor may pursue whatever police policies he deems wise and expedient, so long as he does so lawfully and consistently with the rights of the police unions.”
“Given the pending motions to intervene, however, the new mayor should not be permitted to hand control over the NYPD to the federal courts or to prevent this court from reviewing the demonstrably erroneous decisions below,” Steven Engel, of Dechert LLP, wrote on behalf of the unions.
The PBA today was granted a request to file papers to intervene in the case.
Scheindlin, who presided over a nine-week trial, ruled that that the police department’s use of stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional and illegally targeted black and Latino men.
The appellate cases are Ligon v. City of New York, 13-3442, and Floyd v. City of New York, 13-3461, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan). The lower-court cases are Floyd v. City of New York, 08-cv-01034; Ligon v. City of New York 12-cv-02274, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
To contact the reporters on this story: Esme E. Deprez in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org; Patricia Hurtado in Federal Court in Manhattan at