New York – A federal appeals court block of a judge’s ruling that found the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy discriminated against minorities may be short lived, depending on the outcome of next week’s mayoral election.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday the ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin would be on hold pending the outcome of an appeal by the city, a fight that could be dropped if Democrat Bill de Blasio, who is leading the polls by 39 points, has his way.
He has said he would drop objections to the decision, which calls for a monitor to oversee major changes to the police tactic.
“We have to end the overuse of stop and frisk – and any delay only means a continued and unnecessary rift between our police and the people they protect,” De Blasio said in a statement.
His Republican rival, Joe Lhota, said the city’s next mayor must push forward with the appeal.
“From Day One, I have stood with Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg and Commissioner (Raymond) Kelly in support of these proactive policies that have saved countless lives,” he said. “The court has vindicated our positions.”
Bloomberg has steadfastly defended the practice and the topic became an election flashpoint, resonating nationwide. Kelly was shouted down over the tactic by students during a speech at Brown University this week.
“This is indeed an important decision for all New Yorkers and for the men and women of the New York City police department who work very hard day in and day out to keep this city safe,” Kelly said.
The three-judge panel also took the unusual step of removing Scheindlin from the case, because it said she ran afoul of the code of conduct for U.S. judges by misapplying a ruling that allowed her to take the case, and by giving media interviews during the trial.
Scheindlin said in a statement later Thursday she consented to the interviews under the condition she wouldn’t comment on the ongoing case.
“And I did not,” she said.
Scheindlin said some reporters used quotes from written opinions that gave the appearance she had commented on the case but “a careful reading of each interview will reveal that no such comments were made.”
She defended her decision to direct the plaintiffs to bring the case to her, because it was related to the previous case she had been handling for years on a similar topic.
The appeals court said a new judge would be assigned at random to handle further decisions and said it would hear arguments in March on the formal appeal by the city. That judge may choose to make alterations to Scheindlin’s rulings, but it would be unlikely.
Scheindlin decided in August the city violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of blacks and Hispanics by disproportionally stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking them. She assigned a monitor to help the police department change its policy and training programs on the tactic.
Stop-and-frisk has been around for decades, but recorded stops increased dramatically under Bloomberg’s administration to an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330, mostly of black and Hispanic men. Four minority men who said they were targeted because of their races filed a lawsuit in 2004, and it became a class action case.
To make a stop, police must have reasonable suspicion that a crime is about to occur or has occurred, a standard lower than the probable cause needed to justify an arrest. Only about 10 percent of the stops result in arrests or summonses, and weapons are found about 2 percent of the time.
Scheindlin heard a bench trial that ended in the spring and coincided with a groundswell of backlash against the stop-and-frisk tactic. She noted in her ruling this summer that she wasn’t putting an end to the practice, which is constitutional, but was reforming the way the NYPD implemented its stops.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the four men who sued, said it was dismayed that the appeals court delayed “the long-overdue process to remedy the NYPD’s” stop-and-frisk practices and was shocked that it “cast aspersions” on the judge’s professional conduct and reassigned the case.
Associated Press writer Jake Pearson contributed to this report.