By Tom McElroy
NEW YORK — A judge on Wednesday denied a legal challenge by two police unions to a New York City law that eases the way for racial profiling claims.
"Local Law 71 does not prevent police officers from continuing to stop, question, and frisk while utilizing their training and experience," wrote state Supreme Court Justice Anil Singh. "The law only seeks to deter the use of attributes such as race as the sole basis for an investigatory stop which is antithetical to our constitution and values," Singh wrote.
The 2013 law relaxes some legal standards for claims that the stop and frisk tactic or other police techniques were used in a discriminatory way. The measure reflected concerns about the New York Police Department's use of the stop and frisk tactic and its extensive surveillance of Muslims disclosed in stories by The Associated Press.
The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association wanted the law struck down. They said it intruded on state criminal law and that it had a troublingly vague definition of profiling: using race or certain other characteristics "as the determinative factor" in policing.
The unions also contended the law could entangle them in lawsuits over elusive questions about what they were thinking when stopping someone.
The city argued that the law is valid and valuable.
The council passed the law last summer over then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto. Bloomberg vehemently defended both the surveillance and stop and frisk as legal and vital public safety tools, and he said the anti-profiling law would make it more difficult for police to do their jobs.
He sued the City Council, as did the PBA.
Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped Bloomberg's suit, saying there was "absolutely no contradiction in protecting the public safety of New Yorkers and respecting their civil liberties." He also has abandoned the city's appeal of a federal court order demanding changes to the NYPD's use of stop and frisk.
"We are pleased with the Court's decision," a spokesman for the city's law department said on Wednesday.
PBA president Patrick J. Lynch disagreed with the judge's decision, saying the union plans to appeal.
"This law sends an extremely bad message to our police officers who will see themselves in legal crosshairs with every arrest they make," Lynch said in a statement. "Potentially, this bad law can have a very serious impact on public safety."
Messages seeking comment from the Sergeants Benevolent Association were not immediately returned.
Communities United for Police Reform praised the ruling.
"New Yorkers know that it should be unlawful for police to target them solely based on who they are — whether race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, housing or immigration status — and today the court confirmed it," spokesperson Joo-Hyun Kang said in a statement.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press