NYC to allow Latino police officers to march in uniform

Friday, March 3, 2000

Members of the New York City Police Department who also belong to the Latino Officers Association may wear their uniforms in parades now that attorneys for the city have agreed to a permanent injunction against a police policy prohibiting them from doing so.

On March 1, city attorneys agreed they would consent to a permanent injunction preventing the city from prohibiting members of the group from expressing themselves by wearing their uniforms.

The Latino Officers Association contended that not allowing its members to march in uniform violated their First Amendment free-expression rights.

The city’s action comes one week after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the city’s appeal of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said the Latino group was entitled to a preliminary injunction.

The group had filed a federal lawsuit in early 1999, asking the court to force the police department to allow Latino members to march in uniform and behind the group’s banner in five parades from June to October 1999.

The police policy allowed only recognized officer groups to march in uniform in parades. The Latino Officers Association, with over 1,500 members, was formed in 1996 by a dissident faction of the Hispanic Society, a fraternal organization that is recognized by the department.

In June 1999, a federal judge entered a preliminary injunction against the NYPD. On appeal, the 2nd Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction last November in Latino Officers Association v. City of New York, ruling that the police department had an “improperly selective policy concerning organizations that are permitted to wear uniforms during parades.”

The appeals court noted that the police department had allowed 25 other officer groups to march in uniform in various parades. Because the department allowed the other groups to march, the police department could not deny the LOA “the same privilege without demonstrating that their use of the uniform is both distinguishable from that of the various authorized organizations … [and was] threatening to the efficiency” of the police department.

Christopher Dunn, a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union who represented the plaintiffs, called the case a “win for the Latino Officers Association and a win for the First Amendment.”

“It is absolutely a victory for free-speech principles,” Dunn said. “Wearing the uniforms in public parades is an important part of the LOA’s expression.”

Calls to the attorneys for the city were not returned.