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Federal Appeals Court Stays Ruling Against NYPD Stop-And-Frisk


A dramatic turn today in a major court case involving the biggest municipal police force in the country. In August, federal Judge Shira Scheindlin found that the New York Police Department routinely violated the civil rights of thousands of blacks and Latinos. The judge appointed an outside monitor to oversee the department. The administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed that ruling.

Now, a federal appeals court has blocked the lower court ruling from taking effect until that appeal is heard. Joining me now is NPR's Joel Rose, in New York. And Joel, remind us the background here. What's the case about?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, at bottom, the case is about the police tactic known as stop and frisk. This is where police officers conduct warrantless stops on the street to catch criminals. In theory, police are supposed to have probable cause before they can stop, question and frisk you, to look for weapons or other contraband. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In fact, reasonable suspicion - a lower standard than probable cause - is required for the stop-and-frisk policy.]

But civil rights and community groups have been complaining for years that in practice, the NYPD stops young black and Latino men, in particular, without any cause that they can articulate. The NYPD and city lawyers disagree. They say this practice is legal.

Judge Scheindlin heard months and months of testimony about this, and then ruled against the NYPD in August. But today, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that ruling until the city's appeal can be heard, probably sometime next year.

CORNISH: And the appeals court also removed Judge Scheindlin from the case. Why?

ROSE: Well, the appeals court gave two reasons for that. One, they say that Judge Scheindlin violated the appearance of impartiality in court by encouraging the plaintiffs to file additional claims that could become part of the bigger case. And the appeals court also cited several interviews that Judge Scheindlin gave, including to reporters from the Associated Press and the New Yorker. And I have to add that city lawyers had complained throughout the case that Judge Scheindlin seem to have decided how she would rule even before the trial began. And I suppose that they may be feeling somewhat vindicated today.

CORNISH: Now, what does this mean, practically, for the future of stop and frisk as a policy?

ROSE: Well, maybe not that much. The tactic has been a really big issue in the mayoral campaign here all year. The Democratic mayoral nominee, Bill de Blasio, ran on a very strong platform against stop and frisk - which he has promised to replace with policing strategies that emphasize community engagement over stop, question and frisk. So at this point, it's possible that the policy is on its way out regardless of today's ruling.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Joel Rose in New York. Joel, thank you.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 6, 2013 at 10:00 PM MST
The audio of this story, as did a previous Web version, implies that probable cause is required for the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy. In fact, reasonable suspicion – a lower standard – is the requirement.
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.