NYPD officers walk through the Brownsville Houses the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File
NEW YORK (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday blocked a judge's order requiring changes to a New York Police Department stop-and-search tactic that has been widely criticized by rights advocates as targeting black and Hispanic men. The stops reached an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also took the unusual step of removing Judge Shira Scheindlin from the case, saying interviews she gave during the trial responding to criticism of the court called her impartiality into question.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he was grateful for the ruling.
"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," he said.
Scheindlin ruled in August that the city violated the Constitution in the way it carried out its program of stopping and questioning people. She ruled that police in America's largest city violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of people by wrongly targeting black and Hispanic men.
The issue has attracted national interest. Students at Brown University in Rhode Island this week shouted down Police Commissioner Ray Kelly when he tried to give a speech about the so-called stop-and-frisk practice there.
Scheindlin also appointed an outside monitor to oversee major changes and ordered a pilot program to test body-worn cameras in some areas where most stops occur. She noted she wasn't ending the practice, which is constitutional, but was reforming the way the NYPD implemented its stops.
The city appealed her findings and her orders to change the program. The appeals court said her rulings will be stayed pending the outcome of the city's appeal.
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.
She 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."
The front-runner in next week's mayoral election, Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio, said he was "extremely disappointed" in Thursday's decision. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented plaintiffs in the case, said it was shocked that the appeals court "cast aspersions" on the judge's professional conduct and reassigned the case.
Stop-and-frisk has been around for decades in some form, but recorded stops increased dramatically under the administration of current Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A lawsuit was filed in 2004 by four men and became a class action case.
The city has said police officers are afraid to stop and frisk people now and the number of stop-and-frisks has dropped dramatically.
Opponents of changes to the stop-and-frisk program say they would lower police morale but not crime.
About 5 million stops have been made in New York in the past decade, with frisks, or searches, occurring about half the time. To make a stop, police must have reasonable suspicion that a crime is about to occur or has occurred. Only about 10 percent of the stops result in arrests or summonses, and weapons are found about 2 percent of the time.
Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister contributed.
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