By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City can finally begin to implement court-ordered reforms to its controversial stop-and-frisk police tactic, after a U.S. appeals court on Friday rejected a last-ditch challenge brought by several police unions.
The decision from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York came exactly one year after it put the reforms on hold while the city pursued an appeal of a U.S. judge’s finding that the practice amounted to a form of racial profiling.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a staunch defender of the strategy. But Mayor Bill de Blasio announced soon after taking office in January that he would drop the city’s appeal and accept the changes ordered by the federal judge, Shira Scheindlin.
Several police unions then attempted to take over the appeal. But the 2nd Circuit said on Friday they had waited too long to mount their challenge and that allowing them to proceed would undermine the voters’ decision to elect de Blasio, who campaigned on the issue.
“We have serious reservations about the prospect of allowing a public-sector union to encroach upon a duly-elected government’s discretion to settle a dispute against it,” a three-judge panel wrote.
In August 2013, Scheindlin found the hundreds of thousands of stop-and-frisk street encounters each year disproportionately affected minorities and ordered a series of reforms, including the installation of an independent monitor to oversee the changes.
It was unclear whether the unions would petition the full 2nd Circuit to rehear their appeal or seek to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Such bids would face long odds.
In a statement, the president of the city’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, said the court’s decision did not undermine the union’s collective bargaining rights.
“The PBA will continue to monitor actions taken in this process moving forward to ensure that they do not violate the rights of NYC police officers,” he said.
The case was reassigned to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres last year, after the 2nd Circuit found fault with Scheindlin for compromising her appearance of impartiality by steering the case to her courtroom and granting media interviews.
“Today’s ruling confirms the unions cannot claim they are harmed by court orders simply requiring them to comply with the Constitution,” said Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the underlying class action that led to Scheindlin’s ruling.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)