Stop-and-frisk: Bloomberg hails ruling, but victory likely short-lived

The Bloomberg administration's appeal of the landmark stop-and-frisk ruling this summer will certainly be dropped if Public Advocate Bill de Blasio wins the mayor's office on Tuesday.

Andrew Kelly/Reuters
People hold signs protesting against the Stop-and-Frisk program, at a news conference outside the Federal Court in New York on Friday.

New York’s controversial stop-and-frisk police tactic is up and running again after a federal appeals court put a halt Thursday to earlier court-ordered reforms.

Speaking on his weekly radio show Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed deep satisfaction with Thursday’s ruling, which booted US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin from the case and ordered a stay of her decision to appoint an independent monitor to oversee changes to the New York Police Department’s signature crime-fighting tactic.

“We were very satisfied with the ruling,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “It speaks for itself. It says that, basically, Commissioner Kelly can run the department the way he has been running it with my approval and support for the last 12 years.”

Bloomberg also expressed confidence that the federal appeals panel would eventually overturn Judge Scheindlin’s finding that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices violated the Constitution.

“I think it’s important to say that judges grant stays if they think there’s a high probability that an appeal would be successful,” he said, saying, too, that the decision to remove a judge from a case was “very, very” rare.

It may not get that far, however. The Bloomberg administration’s appeal of Scheindlin’s landmark ruling this summer – which found that the NYPD’s tactics constituted illegal searches and unfairly target minorities – will certainly be dropped if Public Advocate Bill de Blasio wins the mayor’s office on Tuesday. This appears very likely, since he has consistent 40-point leads in nearly every poll.

And since arguments for the city’s appeal of Scheindlin’s ruling won’t begin until next year – after the new mayor takes office – the federal courts may have little to say about the future of New York policing – and even Scheindlin’s remedies.

“The judge’s rulings, they have not been overturned,” says Alexis Karteron, senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “They’re still on the books, they’re still ‘good law.’ They’re just not being implemented currently, so it’s hard to predict right now what will happen.

“But certainly the change in administration is something that we’re hoping will mean a change in lots of things at the NYPD in the new year,” Ms. Karteron adds.

But the decision to remove Scheindlin has re-ignited the deep-seated rancor the stop-and-frisk case has brought to the city over the past few years. The police tactic – in which more than a half million people, most of them black and Hispanic men, have been stopped and frisked every year since 2006 – has created a political cauldron and been the most heated issue in this year’s mayoral election.

Along with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Bloomberg has been particularly angry and aggressive in denouncing Scheindlin all year, saying she ignored the real-world realities of crime and was biased against the police.

“Judge Scheindlin was way off base in her decision,” Sgt. Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association. “I believe she has an anti-animus toward cops. It comes out pretty obviously.”

The SBA, too, has recently joined the Bloomberg administration in a lawsuit challenging parts of the New York City Council’s Community Safety Act, a bill in which city lawmakers overrode Bloomberg’s veto, establishing an inspector general for the NYPD and allowing citizens to bring discrimination lawsuits against the department.

Critics of stop-and-frisk were stunned by the “unprecedented” removal of Scheindlin, who the appeals court said “ran afoul” of judicial codes of conduct.

“I mean, for the court to issue a stay of the remedy, that’s one thing,” says Randolph McLaughlin, co-chair of the civil rights practice group at Newman Ferrara LLP in New York. “But for the court to, without being asked, to remove a sitting federal judge from a landmark case like this, which she has spent so many years shepherding, I think it, well, certainly it’s unprecedented, and I think what’s most troubling here is that no one asked for that relief.”

Indeed, the Bloomberg administration has often argued that judges be removed from cases – and has been successful at least once this year in getting a judge they didn’t like off a case.

“It was completely shocking, because the city had not asked for Judge Scheindlin to be removed. There had been no discussion of that at all, there was no briefing on that issue,” says Karteron. “So the fact that the city – which again, is not shy about asking for judges to be removed – the fact that they did not even do that, and the panel decided to do it, was really quite surprising.”

Despite Thursday’s judicial setback, the political tides in New York suggest the ruling will not sweep away the changes in store for the NYPD.

In fact, Bloomberg suggested on his radio show that the next mayor should want to direct police policy without an independent monitor looking over his shoulder.

“From Bill de Blasio’s standpoint – and we all believe he’ll be the next mayor, unless something extraordinary happens between now and election day – he’s screaming that this isn’t right,” says Sgt. Mullins. “OK, I expect that. But in the end, this may be a blessing for Bill de Blasio.”

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