NEW YORK (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday denied a last-ditch effort by police unions to continue challenging a decision that the New York Police Department violated the civil rights of minorities with its stop and frisk policy, clearing the way for reforms to begin.
Lawyers for the unions argued before a three-judge panel two weeks ago that they should be able to continue the appeal even though the city no longer wanted to fight. A lower court judge has said the unions did not signal soon enough their wish to be included in the case, heard last year in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled after a 10-week civil trial that the NYPD's stop and frisk policy sometimes discriminated against minorities, and she ordered sweeping reforms and installed a monitor to oversee the changes.
Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration appealed her decision, but Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped the appeal when he took office this year, making good on a campaign pledge. The judges said Friday that allowing the union appeal to proceed would have interfered with the voice of the public that elected the new administration.
"In other words, 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.
Departmental reforms have been on hold during the appeal process but may now begin, unless the unions decide to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their argument.
"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," Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the department's largest police union, said Friday.
Meanwhile, the NYPD already has started implementing on its own some of the suggestions made in the ruling. For example, a pilot program of body-worn cameras is being developed in five precincts, and the form officers fill out to record a stop and frisk is being revised. Officers already receive training on how to properly stop someone.
Since before the trial, streets stops have been on decline from a high of more than 685,000 in 2011. In the first half of this year, there have been 27,527 stops. In two of the precincts that recorded the most stops, both in Brooklyn, there have been 126 stops, compared with 10,540 in 2011.
Lawyers for the city, which spent years fighting the case, now say they're ready to turn the page. They say it will take five years to reform the process, three under a court monitor and two with the city's new inspector general overseeing reforms.
Zachary W. Carter, the head of the city's law department, said the decision Friday "clears the way for implementation of the remedial measures to which the city agreed as part of the stop and frisk litigation."