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NYC appeals ruling that NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy is unlawful

(Reuters) - New York City on Friday took the first step towards appealing a federal judge's ruling that its police department's controversial stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional.

The formal notice of appeal, filed in federal court in Manhattan, began what could be a lengthy legal battle over U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin's decision this week to appoint a federal monitor to oversee sweeping reforms to the New York City Police Department's tactics.

City officials also said they will ask a federal appeals court to prevent Scheindlin's order from taking effect while the appeal is pending.

It remains unclear, however, whether the city will see the appeal through to the end.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has championed stop-and-frisk as a vital crime-reduction tool, will end his tenure at the end of the year, leaving his successor to decide whether to continue fighting Scheindlin's ruling.

Leading Democratic mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson have all said they would seek changes in the department's policy to ensure it passes constitutional muster. Top Republican candidates Joseph Lhota and John Catsimatidis, meanwhile, have defended the practice.

Scheindlin's ruling, which came after a nine-week trial this spring, found that city officials had turned a "blind eye" to what she described as "indirect racial profiling."

The department's stop-and-frisk strategy, in which patrol officers in high-crime areas have stopped millions of people on the basis of "reasonable suspicion" that they could be engaged in criminal activity, disproportionately targeted racial minorities, Scheindlin said.

The brief court documents filed on Friday did not specify the city's grounds for appeal. The appeal would eventually be heard by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Manhattan.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Andrew Hay)

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