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Editorial: Overreach compromised stop and frisk

New York City police officers demonstrate the stop-and-frisk

New York City police officers demonstrate the stop-and-frisk tactic at a training facility at Rodman's Neck. (June 12, 2012) Credit: Charles Eckert

Here's what the blistering battle between City Hall and federal Judge Shira Scheindlin is not about.

It's not about Mayor Michael Bloomberg, or his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, or the mayor's seething anger at a decision that would put one of his key programs -- stop and frisk -- under the control of the federal courts despite record drops in crime.

So what is it about?

It's about a program that was mishandled -- a program that used too many rookies who had an insufficient grasp of the legal definition of reasonable suspicion.

It's about a program that went too far, stopping hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers a year -- most of whom were young minorities and almost 90 percent of whom turned out to be innocent of any infraction of the law.

It's about the deeply wounded sensibilities this program caused among honest, workaday citizens.

The next mayor -- who will take over on Jan. 1 -- must convince New Yorkers that it is possible to keep the streets of their neighborhoods safe without launching attacks on their personal dignity.

Stop and frisk does have a continued role to play in this ongoing effort. But here's the catch: New Yorkers should not be frisked simply because of how they look or the neighborhoods in which they happen to be walking.

The special monitor would no doubt keep a keen eye trained on that point -- assuming he survives City Hall's appellate court challenges.

Bloomberg and Kelly are right about this much.

Running a force with its command split between an NYPD hierarchy and a court appointee is a bad idea. And running it with the extra burden of an inspector general -- which the City Council wants -- is worse. The council should drop its push for an inspector general now.

The pity is that the stop and frisk fight had to come to this. We all want safe streets. We all want police procedures to be both lawful and have the confidence of the public. The next mayor has changes to make and a mandate to rebuild.