NEW YORK — Lawmakers and advocates rejoiced Friday after a federal appeals court refused to allowNew York City police unions to intervene in the city’s sweeping stop-and-frisk settlement. The decision removed the last major obstacle for Mayor Bill de Blasio in reforming the police department’s use of the tactic, and in fulfilling a campaign promise that helped him win the mayor’s race a year ago.
“Today’s ruling rejects the police unions’ baseless attempts to obstruct stop-and-frisk reforms,” said Priscilla Gonzalez of the group Communities United for Police Reform. “The decision puts us on the road forward to engage in a citywide process to identify concrete changes that will protect the constitutional and civil rights of all New Yorkers.”
Last year, U.S. District Judge Schira Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional and amounted to an “indirect policy of racial profiling.” She ordered remedies and a federal monitor to oversee the department.
Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed. But de Blasio dropped the appeal months later, after coming into office. The new mayor used Scheindlin’s ruling as a blueprint for a sweeping settlement that includes an independent monitor, a pilot program for police body cameras, and a process to repair police-community relations.
Two police unions — the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Detectives Endowment Association — had sought to join the lawsuit, and block the settlement.
But on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled unanimously that allowing the unions to join the lawsuit would effectively nullify New York City voters’ election of de Blasio, who had promised to drop Bloomberg’s appeal.
“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 appeals court says in its decision.
“Now, after the unions’ unnecessary obstructionism, all New Yorkers can work together to end racially discriminatory policing and bring meaningful reform and accountability to the NYPD,” Baher Azmy, Center for Constitutional Rights legal director, said in a statement. The center was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Jonathan Moore, an attorney who represented one of the plaintiffs, said the decision shows the police unions “have no real interest in this case.”
“We look forward to working with the city and a variety of invited stakeholders -– including the unions –- to craft substantive remedies to decades of unconstitutional policing,” Moore said.
Pat Lynch, spokesperson for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement that the union would “continue to monitor actions taken in this process moving forward to ensure that they do not violate the rights of NYC police officers.”
The number of police stops ballooned during Bloomberg’s 12 years as mayor. In 2011, the NYPD stopped New Yorkers nearly 700,000 times. Eighty-seven percent of those stopped were black or Latino, and the vast majority had done nothing wrong.
City council members who had been outspoken critics of stop-and-frisk said they were gratified by the ruling.
“I’m very pleased New York will now be able to move forward to heal frayed bonds of trust between police and communities and work together to keep the city safe while respecting the civil rights of all residents,” said Council Member Brad Lander. He and Council Member Jumaane Williams helped pass the Community Safety Act, aimed at reining in the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk.
Williams told HuffPost Friday that stop-and-frisk opponents “have won on every part of the spectrum — legally on several occasions, in the ballot box, and by legislation.”
“So my hope is that [the police unions] finally become productive partners and move forward,” Williams said. “We want them to come to the table and they keep putting on boxing gloves.”
The case will now be sent to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres to implement the settlement.