Claiming the City Council had crossed a legal line by legislating in an area reserved to the state, Mayor Bloomberg on Tuesday went to court to block a bill lawmakers passed over his veto in their effort to prevent unfair profiling of suspects by the police.
The profiling bill was half of the Community Safety Act, composed of two measures the Council passed to rein in the Police Department’s practice of stopping and frisking people it deems suspicious. The profiling component passed 34-15 and the other element, which will create an inspector general within the city’s Department of Investigation to oversee the Police Department, passed 39-10. The bills were first approved in late June and the override votes were held Aug. 22.
The majority contends that the NYPD has been frisking suspects based on race, in violation of their civil rights, creating a divide between residents and the police.
Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly deny the charge, and say both bills will handcuff the NYPD and make it harder to prevent violent crime and get weapons off the street. But the administration determined that only the anti-profiling measure was illegal.
In its suit, the city is asking the state Supreme Court to declare the law invalid and to impose an injunction to prevent it from being implemented.
“The mayor made clear in his veto message that this anti-profiling measure is illegal — and today we are taking action on his behalf to prevent the law from taking effect,” said the city’s top attorney, Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo. “This suit is necessary to prevent the City Council from enacting laws where the state’s exclusive authority has been established.”
The bill, Local Law 71, would prevent the police from bias-based profiling, such as on the basis of race or religion, something the administration noted is already illegal. It would also add other categories, such as age, gender and sexual orientation, and it would allow people who believe they were unfairly stopped by the police to sue in state court in order to force the NYPD to change policy.
But according to the city, only the state has the power to legislate in the area of criminal law.
“There’s an important principle at stake here,” Cardozo said. “Local legislative bodies should not be passing laws affecting the regulation of law enforcement activity in this way. This is a mattergoverned by the state Legislature.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the leading Democratic contender for mayor and a forceful critic of stop and frisk, issued a statement Tuesday decrying the administration’s lawsuit — Mayor of the City of New York v. Council of the City of New York — and saying he would drop the case if elected.
“This lawsuit is an outrageous attempt by Mayor Bloomberg to block essential legislation to end the abuse of stop and frisk in communities throughout this city, de Blasio said. “We need a strong enforceable ban on racial profiling and all forms of biased-based policing.As mayor I will withdraw this lawsuit and finally bring this stop and frisk era to an end.”
Leading Republican candidate Joe Lhota, a former deputy mayor, supports the administration’s position and says stop and frisk is a legal and important crime-fighting tool.
The city is also appealing a federal court ruling that found the NYPD does unfairly target minorities for stops and imposed several other restraints on the force, including a court-appointed monitor, separate from the inspector general, and a rule that officers in the precincts with the most stops in each borough wear miniature cameras on their uniforms to record interactions with suspects.
The administration says stop and frisk is legal under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Terry v. Ohio, a 1968 case that set parameters for police stops of citizens.