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City to drop appeal in stop/frisk lawsuit

TimesLedger Newspapers

Borough President Melinda Katz said she supported Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to drop the city’s appeal to the federal stop-and-frisk case.

“It is critical that we restore trust and faith in every community in this city and begin to repair relationships,” she said. “With effective community policing, New York can remain the safest big city in this country, while serving all of its residents with respect.”

Calling it a “defining moment” for the five boroughs, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week his administration was dropping the appeal filed by his predecessor in the city’s long-running stop-and-frisk case, laying the groundwork for a court-appointed monitor to oversee reforms to the NYPD for three years.

“This is a defining moment in our history. It’s a defining moment for millions of our families, especially those with young men of color,” de Blasio said at a news conference in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, which along with Queens neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights, Corona and Jamaica had experienced historically high levels of stops under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12 years in office.

“And it will lay the foundation for not only keeping us the safest big city in America, but making us safer still,” de Blasio added. “This will be one city, where everyone’s rights are respected and where police and community stand together to confront violence.”

The city’s police unions still have a stake in the case, and they have until Feb. 7 to respond to the city’s motion to drop the appeal.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the union still views the ruling with skepticism but did not say whether or not it would pursue further legal action.

“We continue to have serious concerns about how these remedies will impact our members and the ability to do their jobs,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to be involved in the process in order to give voice to our members and to make every effort to ensure that their rights are protected.”

In the city’s agreement with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the civil rights group that filed the lawsuit, the independent monitor appointed to oversee reforms to the NYPD’s practices will watch over the department for three years, given the city substantially complies with the reforms.

The monitor and the police will reach out to communities in a series of forums to seek input on the process.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said he was confident he could keep the city safe without relying on unconstitutional stops.

“We will not break the law to enforce the law. That’s my solemn promise to every New Yorker, regardless of where they were born, where they live or what they look like,” he said. “Those values aren’t at odds with keeping New Yorkers safe — they are essential to long-term public safety.”

The battle over the Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policies — which supporters argue have been instrumental in bringing crime rates down to historic lows — stretches back to the waning days of the 1990s, when the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit challenging stop-and-frisk in the wake of the fatal shooting by police of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx.

In 2003, Manhattan District Judge Shira Scheindlin oversaw a settlement agreement in the case that required the NYPD to document individual stops, and in the following years the numbers skyrocketed.

The legal advocacy group in 2008 filed a federal class-action suit against the city, and last August, following a nine-week trial, Scheindlin found the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk to be unconstitutional and racially discriminatory. She appointed an independent monitor to oversee reforming the department.

Soon after the Bloomberg administration, which ardently disagreed with the ruling and accused Scheindlin of bias, appealed the decision and late last year the Second Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the judge’s orders and removed her from the case.

Should the appeals court grant the city’s motion, it will be up to the newly appointed district court justice, Judge Analisa Torres, to decide whether or not to approve the settlement.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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