Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Says Davis Settlement Offers Opportunity for Constructive Change
FRIDAY, JANUARY 09, 2015

Seymour W. James, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, said the preliminary settlement in the Davis case "strikes the right balance between safety in NYCHA developments and the rights of residents and their guests to be free from harassment and unlawful arrests. The court monitoring process offers an opportunity for the community and the NYPD to have a meaningful discussion that is essential for constructive change, especially during this critical time in police-community relations,” James told the New York Post. “We are eager to begin the process that will ensure better security, and better police services, for public housing residents.” 

The lawsuit, filed in January 2010, charged that residents of public housing and their visitors faced police scrutiny and unwarranted stops for mundane activities like talking in the hallways or dropping off children. These mostly came from officers engaged in so-called vertical patrols, when officers sweep buildings floor by floor.

The plaintiffs had been in settlement negotiations with the city since the summer, James told the New York Times. The Legal Aid Society filed the suit with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

“They’ve been treating people like criminals in their own homes, or the homes of their friends and loved ones,” Mr. James said.

He added that the revisions to police tactics could help repair relations between the police and minority communities that have frayed in recent months over the deaths of unarmed black men, including Akai Gurley, who was shot in the stairwell of the Lewis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn by an officer conducting a vertical patrol.

 

 

The New York Times
New York to Settle Suit on Policing in Public Housing
By BENJAMIN MUELLER and J. DAVID GOODMAN
JAN. 8, 2015

New York City reached a preliminary settlement in a federal class-action lawsuit over the Police Department’s trespassing-enforcement tactics in public housing developments, according to court papers filed this week.

Under the proposed settlement, filed in United States District Court in Manhattan, the city agreed to alter the way the police patrol inside public housing buildings, acceding to many of the demands of the plaintiffs, who argued that basic behavior in public housing had become subject to aggressive scrutiny and unwarranted trespassing arrests.

The decision to settle the case is the latest step in an effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to conclude lawsuits involving police conduct that were pending from earlier years.

The settlement is subject to approval by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin. If the settlement is approved, it is expected to become part of a federal monitoring process ordered in a parallel case decided by Judge Scheindlin in 2013 over the department’s stop-and-frisk policies.

The Police Department would revise its patrol guide to curb practices that officers have long relied upon, forcing them to fill out new forms when they make arrests for trespassing, and clarifying when officers should simply leave residents alone.

The lawsuit, filed in January 2010, charged that residents of public housing and their visitors faced police scrutiny and unwarranted stops for mundane activities like talking in the hallways or dropping off children.

These mostly came from officers engaged in so-called vertical patrols, when officers sweep buildings floor by floor.

For decades, in addition to looking for crime, police officers patrolling public housing developments have also been told to watch for violations of the New York City Housing Authority’s rules of conduct.

Rather than fight the plaintiffs’ claims in court, as the Bloomberg administration often had, the city decided to revise tactics that the Police Department had long leaned on to stop and question tenants in public housing.

The plaintiffs had been in settlement negotiations with the city since the summer, said Seymour James, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society, which filed the suit with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

“They’ve been treating people like criminals in their own homes, or the homes of their friends and loved ones,” Mr. James said.

He added that the revisions to police tactics could help repair relations between the police and minority communities that have frayed in recent months over the deaths of unarmed black men, including Akai Gurley, who was shot in the stairwell of the Lewis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn by an officer conducting a vertical patrol.

In a statement, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department said the settlement “appropriately balances the need to maximize public safety while respecting the constitutional rights” of Housing Authority residents and their guests.

One practice that came under particular scrutiny in the federal case was the way officers used a prohibition on “lingering” in the lobbies and stairwells of public housing buildings to make stops and, sometimes, arrests for trespassing.

An analysis by the plaintiffs found that “lingering” was often used as a basis for the initial interaction that resulted in an arrest, even though alone it would not provide a constitutional basis for a stop. (Lingering differs from the penal law violation of loitering, which applies only in a public place, though officers and residents often use the terms interchangeably.)

As part of the preliminary settlement, the Housing Authority amended its rules to include a lengthy definition of “lingering.”

“Lingering occurs,” the proposed new rules state, when a person is inside a Housing Authority building “for an unreasonable period of time in light of the area’s intended purpose.” Officers would now be told explicitly that it does not include checking the mail or “waiting for food deliveries,” and that a person cannot be subjected to a stop or an arrest for mere lingering.

Officers would be instructed not to arrest someone for trespassing in restricted areas like the building’s roof “in the absence of conspicuously posted rules,” unless they have reason to believe the person is knowingly flouting them. Instead of making an arrest, officers would simply be instructed to ask the person to leave.