Does "stop-and-frisk" take policing too far? A federal judge this week ruled that the New York Police Department's "stop-and-frisk" practices are unconstitutional, amounting to a "selective enforcement of the law based on considerations of race" that fell disproportionately upon the city's black and Latino population.
Critics said police practices were little more than racial profiling, but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was enraged. "I worry for my kids and I worry for your kids. I worry for you and I worry for me," Bloomberg said. "Crime can come back any time the criminals think they can get away with things. We just cannot let that happen." Is stop-and-frisk intolerable or indispensable?
Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate.
Defenders of stop-and-frisk policing generally offer two defenses of the practice. First, it's effective. Second, if it seems discriminatory, it's only because crime is concentrated in minority communities. U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin's ruling this week, however, demolishes both those rationales.
Effective? Who would know? As Scheindlin pointed out, the NYPD's method for tracking stop-and-frisk encounters is deeply flawed -- in many cases, officers don't even turn in the required paperwork. The department, she wrote, "has hindered the collection of accurate data concerning the constitutionality of its stops, and made no effective use of the limited data that is available." The available data is damning. Yes, stop-and-frisk encounters happen far more often with blacks and Latinos than with whites -- but out of 4.4 million stops, just 6 percent resulted in an arrest. Another 6 percent resulted in summonses for civil violations that fell short of even misdemeanor criminal activity. Eighty-eight percent resulted in no further action.
That 12 percent hit rate -- a generous estimate, incidentally -- is fine if you're searching for needles in haystacks; it's unacceptably low when officers are supposed to have "reasonable suspicion" for making a stop.
As for the idea that police are concentrating their activity where crime happens, Scheindlin found that even after adjusting for crime rates, stop-and-frisk disproportionately occurred in minority communities -- usually with less justification.
Bottom line: Stop-and-frisk is ineffective and discriminatory.
Writer Ta-Nahesi Coates recently responded to those who suggest black men should bear the burden of stop-and-frisk because of criminality among African-Americans.
"They hold that neither I, nor my 12-year-old son, nor any of my nephews, nor any of my male family members deserve to be judged as individuals by the state," he wrote. "Instead we must be seen as members of a class more inclined to criminality.
It does not matter that the vast, vast majority of black men commit no violent crime at all." That's not an intrusion most of us would bear. It's frankly un-American. Simple fairness -- and the Constitution -- shouldn't let us impose that burden on others.
Contrary to critics' claims, stop-and-frisk is indeed an effective crime deterrent. If Judge Scheindlin's decision holds up, New Yorkers will soon discover just how effective it was.
Understand exactly what Scheindlin ruled in the class-action lawsuit against the NYPD policy: Of 19 egregious stops cited in a case covering eight years, the judge determined 14 of them were unconstitutional.
Sounds like a lot of abuse until you learn that the NYPD conducted 4.4 million stops over the same period. The judge, therefore, voided an entire program because 0.0000031 percent of stops between 2004 and 2012 violated individuals' rights.
Even one violation is too many, you say. Maybe so. But civil libertarians sometimes forget what government exists to do: protect life and property. Murder, rape and robbery deprive people of their rights, too, in the worst ways possible.
Stop-and-frisk has been an integral part of a broader strategy to slash crime dramatically in the Big Apple. Major felonies fell 31 percent from 2001 to 2012. There were 414 murders in New York last year, the lowest since 1963.
It's true that the vast majority of black and Hispanic men commit no violent crimes. But it's also true that blacks and Hispanics commit nearly 99 percent of all violent crimes in New York City's 88th Precinct, where the class-action suit originated, and more than 93 percent of crimes in the city.
Reality didn't seem to matter to Scheindlin, who selectively highlighted supposed racial disparities in stops while downplaying actual crime demographics. The implication, as City Journal's Heather Mac Donald points out, is that while "whites and Asians commit less than 1 percent of violent crime in the 88th Precinct and less than 6 percent of all crime, they should make up 40 percent of all stops -- to match their representation in the local population." Ridiculous.
Scheindlin now wants federal oversight of the NYPD. The upshot of her decision will leave police spending more time checking boxes than fighting crime. When felonies surge, don't be surprised that poor and minority neighborhoods -- like New York's 88th Precinct -- fare the worst.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis is a contributing editor to The Philly Post.