NEW YORK (AP) – The city’s biggest police union asked a court Tuesday to nix a law that would make it easier for people to bring racial profiling lawsuits, saying it would cast a cloud of doubt over officers’ conduct.
The measure is too vague, “leaves officers to guess” what’s allowed and threatens to taint the entire New York Police Department with a brush of discrimination, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said in a lawsuit filed against the City Council.
“(The law) directly threatens the lives and safety of police officers because it chills their willingness to undertake law enforcement action necessary to protect their safety,” including stop and frisk, the lawsuit adds.
The City Council said it would vigorously fight the suit, which furthers a debate that moved quickly from City Hall to court after lawmakers’ August vote to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto. Bloomberg filed his own suit against the law last month; the Sergeants Benevolent Association, which represents 13,000 NYPD supervisors, is seeking court permission to join that lawsuit on the mayor’s side.
The law, set to take effect late next month, eases some legal standards for claims that stop and frisk and other techniques were used in a biased way. Such lawsuits can seek policy changes but not money.
The law reflected both complaints about the NYPD’s use of the stop-and-frisk technique and concerns about the department’s surveillance of Muslims. The spying was disclosed in stories by The Associated Press.
The police department defends both tactics as legal, needed tools that have made the city safer. Critics see them as questionably effective intrusions on the rights of people, many of them innocent.
Like Bloomberg, the PBA argues the measure impinges on state criminal law. The 22,000-member officers’ union also dilates on the effects it says the measure would have on officers’ work.
The law allows for officers to argue their conduct was justified, but the PBA says the standards for doing so aren’t clear.
The council said in a statement it would “aggressively defend” the law. Its sponsors, Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, said the police union and mayor should work with the measure, not against it.
“We are confident that it is fully within the powers of the City Council to protect the civil rights of New Yorkers from bias-based profiling, and we look forward to prevailing in the lawsuit,” Lander said in a statement.
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