Federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin has ruled that the New York Police Department’s stoo-and-frisk tactic is unconstitutional. Civil rights groups are happy because the policy unfairly targets young black and Hispanic men. The mayor and police are upset because they claim it is an effective tool to protect the public. In fact, it is unconstitutional regardless of who the target is, and it damages the reputation of the police. The judge’s only mistake here was in not ordering an end to the policy altogether.
Stop-and-frisk is designed to arrest those carrying weapons by stopping members of the public and checking them for arms. In 98.5% of the cases from 2004 on, no weapon turned up. That figure is from the NYPD itself.. Other NYPD statistics show that police found weapons on 1.0% of blacks who were stopped, 1.1% of Hispanics, and 1.4% of whites.
Under the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, the people are protected from unreasonable searches. When a policy designed to find weapons has a failure rate above 98%, it is hard to argue the police have probable cause to search someone. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, all citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law. While statistically there is no meaningful difference among the city’s ethnic groups when it comes to carrying a weapon that the police find, only 11% of those stopped and frisked are white. And only 13% of the stops were based on a description of the subject. So the other 87% was based on what if not race?
Mayor Mike Bloomberg has a blind spot when it comes to civil liberties. It’s too easy to call people “nazi” or “fascist” but his policing philosophy reminds one of a 1950s Latin American dictatorship rather than 21st century America. He’;s having kittens. He claims that the policy has helped reduce the city’ murder rate from 2,000 per year in 1994 to fewer than 600 in 2012. Except, most of that decline occurred before he took office, And in claiming this endangers the public, his histrionics are shameful, “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying.” Never mind that he allows his police to carry guns which kill innocent bystanders from time to time. The argument that stop and frisk cuts crime and so should be permitted is not good enough — pre-emptive arrest and interment camps prevent crime, too,
The real problem with the policy is the long-term effect it has on police relations with the community they are supposed to help. The best cop on the planet is useless without the cooperation and support of the public. And an entire generation of young men in poor neighborhoods, or who look like they come from poor neighborhoods, are being stopped and searched, usually for no reason. If that happens more than a time or two, why would the subject ever want to help the police?
Judge Scheindlin did err, though, when she allowed the policy to continue under a court-appointed monitor. The policy can’t be made constitutional no matter what. It needs to go, and when it is gone, no one is going to miss it