A federal judge has issued a major ruling holding the New York City Police Department (NYPD) liable for discrimination against people with disabilities by shutting them out of police precincts.
“In the thirty years since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (‘ADA’) the City of New York and NYC Police Department (‘NYPD‘) have made little progress eliminating physical barriers to access to NYPD’s police stations,” wrote U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York in her ruling yesterday. “Plaintiffs have now shown that those barriers are not merely theoretical or technical—they have actually prevented individuals with mobility disabilities from accessing the benefits of services provided from stations.
The lawsuit, Disabled In Action v. The City of New York, charged that more than half of police stations across the city are physically inaccessible to people with mobility disabilities, preventing them from seeking refuge if they feel unsafe, making crime reports, attending public meetings, and accessing other crime prevention services.
These include insurmountable architectural barriers, including stairs as the only way to reach front entrances and lifts that are regularly broken or have missing keys necessary for operation. When alternate routes exist, they are often unmarked and unsafe, with narrow paths, broken pavement and missing handrails.
The plaintiffs also showed that precinct houses include numerous accessibility barriers within the precinct stations, including inaccessible bathrooms at nearly every station, heavy doors with narrow doorways, and insufficient clear floor space, among other barriers that block or impede access.
Judge Caproni’s ruling noted that the NYPD has taken initial steps to address precinct inaccessibility during the course of this litigation, but the plan was developed solely by NYPD members without any input from the disability community. The ruling requires that any remedy to the inaccessibility of precinct stations include the input of the disability community. The plaintiffs and the NYPD must meet and submit a joint letter by March 12, 2020, describing their efforts to reach a solution.
“Police protection is one of the most critical government services, but the majority of NYPD stations are inaccessible to New Yorkers with mobility disabilities. It is unconscionable and it is illegal,” said Michelle Caiola, Managing Director of Litigation at Disability Rights Advocates (DRA). “This ruling is an enormous victory: it brings us closer to ensuring that every New Yorker has access to the public safety to which we are all entitled. Thirty years after the passage of the ADA, it is long past time to eliminate these barriers and guarantee equal access to public safety and civic life as the law demands.
“I feel unsafe because I cannot get into my local police station in an emergency without either risking my safety or waiting outside for an officer and losing precious time,” said plaintiff Jean Ryan, president of Disabled In Action and a wheelchair user who cannot independently access the police station closest to her home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. “I have complained to the City and the police department so many times, and yet nothing has changed. This ruling should send the message that it’s time for change.
“You can’t participate in all aspects of the city’s civic life if you can’t even get in the door of the local police precinct,” said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID), a plaintiff in the case. “Whether it’s going to a crime-prevention meeting or conferring with the police in sensitive situations, the lack of access isn’t fair or right. Judge Caproni’s decision will get us closer to a more accessible, more democratic city.
“Judge Caproni’s decision is an important victory for our clients and New York City’s entire disability community,” said Darin P. McAtee, partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. “We at Cravath are once again proud to partner with DRA on civil rights cases that have an impact in New York City.”
The case was litigated by Disability Rights Advocates and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP on behalf of individual plaintiffs Paula Wolff, Jean Ryan, Edith Prentiss, and Dustin Jones; and organizational plaintiffs Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York (DIA) and Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID).