Federal appeals judges expressed skepticism at a hearing Wednesday about police unions' last-ditch efforts to block the city's settlement of a lawsuit over controversial NYPD stop-and-frisk tactics.
Judge Barrington Parker of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pointed out to one union lawyer that Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton want to end the case and begin implementing reforms.
"Who controls the police department?" he asked Joseph Rizzo, representing the Captains Endowment Association. "Is it your client, or the commissioner?"
"You can't rewind the clock to what it was before the de Blasio administration took office," Judge John Walker Jr. chimed in later in the oral arguments.
Manhattan U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin last year found NYPD stop-and-frisk tactics unconstitutional and ordered changes in supervision, training and discipline as well as a pilot program to equip cops with cameras that would film encounters.
After the Bloomberg administration appealed, the Second Circuit stayed the ruling and removed the judge for an appearance of anti-police bias. But de Blasio agreed to settle the case, withdraw the appeal and begin work with a court-appointed monitor on reforms.
Lawyers for three police unions told the three-judge panel Wednesday that they should be allowed to keep the appeal alive because reforms could affect matters that should be part of collective bargaining -- from safety issues to an officer's privacy interest in turning off a camera when he goes to the bathroom.
Anthony Coles, a lawyer for the NYPD sergeants' union, said claims of unconstitutional behavior had also damaged cops' reputations. "We think it is tremendously unfair . . . for the city to walk away from that and leave that on the books," he said.
But lawyers for the city and plaintiffs said stop-and-frisk policy was a management prerogative that didn't have to be cleared with the unions, and Parker said he suspected the unions had an ulterior motive -- using the case as leverage in contract negotiations.
"You're using this to try to accumulate chips when you go back to the bargaining table," he said. If the unions lose their bid to intervene, the reform process will be overseen by Judge Analisa Torres, who has taken over from Scheindlin.