With the announcement last week that the city will settle two lawsuits that seek to curb the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, the de Blasio administration has taken on a hefty commitment: it has pledged to follow a court order by Judge Shira Scheindlin that calls for reforms to policing practices, to be overseen for three years by an independent, court-appointed monitor.
But what does a monitor do, exactly? And what happens if the NYPD doesn’t live up to its end of the bargain?
Think of a monitor as a judge’s eyes and ears on the ground as plaintiffs and defendants wrestle with the messy details of implementing promised reforms.
Judge Scheindlin appointed as monitor Peter L. Kimroth, an attorney who once served as the city’s top lawyer under Mayor Ed Koch. If the settlement agreement is be approved by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Kimroth’s bottom line will be to ensure that the NYPD carries out the reforms recommended by Judge Scheindlin in connection with the two cases, Floyd v. City of New York and Ligon v. City of New York.
Kimroth will also act as an intermediary between the defendants — the NYPD and the City of New York — and the plaintiffs. He’ll spend the bulk of his time reporting and making recommendations to the judge, Analisa Torres, who took over the cases after an appellate panel removed Judge Schendlin.
Judge Torres will then make decisions based on the monitor’s recommendations — and those could include extended oversight by the monitor if she deems the NYPD is making insufficient progress. The judge also has the authority to impose sanctions on the government agency if the monitor’s recommendations indicate they are not complying.
“Judges are generally reluctant to take that step,” said Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project at the Urban Justice Center, though he noted that the threat of sanctions does work as an incentive for the NYPD to implement the reforms.
Once the judge decides that a monitor is no longer needed, and closes the cases, the city will proceed with appointing an NYPD Inspector General within the city’s Department of Investigation, as required under a law passed by the City Council.
The city has pledged to pay for the monitor, staff, experts and other expenses.
“Having a monitor is very important in such cases where there are big, long-term changes involved,” said New York Civil Liberties Union senior staff lawyer Alexis Karteron, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in Ligon.
Under the procedures usually followed in cases with a court-appointed monitor, the NYPD will come up with proposals for implementation of specific reforms. The plaintiffs will then review and respond to each, and the monitor will make recommendations to the judge accordingly. The monitor will have access to NYPD documents and procedures — important information often inaccessible to the outside world.
The monitor will also engage with members of the affected community through regular meetings and will meet with advocates for the reforms, including the plaintiffs.
Gangi says that the appointment of a monitor ensures that the decision is “not just a ruling on paper, but a way to give the ruling some teeth and enforce it.”
As the U.S. Department of Justice noted last year in its statement of support for appointing a stop-and-frisk monitor, such court-appointed monitors have played important roles in other federal civil rights cases, including the lawsuit seeking to end racial discrimination in New York Fire Department hiring.
“We’re very hopeful that we’ll be able to implement the reforms that Judge Scheindlin put out,” said Karteron. “We’re on the same page as the city, so we’ll use this as a base and move forward.”
De Blasio’s decision to drop the appeal isn’t the final word, however. Several police unions have sought to participate in the Floyd case, and have expressed apprehension at the monitor’s appointment.
The appellate court has given the unions until Feb. 7 to either respond to the city’s request to refer the case to Judge Torres of file an appeal themselves.
“If there is going to be any agreement on how stop-and-frisk is going to operate, it is critical that police unions have a seat at the table,” said Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association.
“I think a monitor is unnecessary. But now it seems like there’s an agreement, so we say it is critical we are included in the conversation because it is the men and women of the NYPD that are affected by this decision.”