One of the most controversial law enforcement topics to hit the mainstream media recently is the use of stop-and-frisk tactics.
On August 12, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD violated the Constitution with its practice of stopping and searching people suspected of criminal activity. The judge said that stop-and-frisk tactics amounted to “indirect racial profiling” by targeting blacks and Hispanics. As a result, the judge ordered an independent inspector general to monitor the NYPD and oversee changes to its practice.
New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly has aggressively defended the police tactic, saying it has reduced violent and other crimes within the city. He went as far as to predict that violent crime will go up “no question about it” if the policy is abandoned.
“This is something that’s integral to policing,” added Kelly. “Officers have to have the right of inquiry, if they see some suspicious behavior.”
Many have accused the judge, and other lawmakers and politicians, of not understanding the nuances and realities of law enforcement and the effectiveness of this tactic.
Today, there is expected to be an epic battle when the city council convenes to vote on overriding Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vetoes. Bloomberg has vetoed two bills: one to create an inspector general and the other to allow people to sue over racial profiling. Currently, the measures stand at 34 votes, which is exactly the number needed to override his veto, so Bloomberg needs to convince one council member to change their vote in order to let his veto stand.
However, despite the battles in New York, Detroit Police Chief James Craig declared that stop-and-frisk tactics will continue under his administration:
“There has been no change,” he said. “I should remind the” public “that we’re under consent judgment and part of that is that we adhere to the best policing practices. Any time we stop someone, certainly that stop is documented and is based on reasonable suspicion and is articulated in a report.”
Other police chiefs have stepped up and said that eliminating the tactic would hurt public safety. For example, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said earlier this year that it would be difficult if Milwaukee was forced to curb pedestrian stops that have reduced crime:
“That’s what worries us about what’s happening in New York. It would be a shame if some people decided to put us back in our cars just answering calls and ceding the streets to thugs.”
To help reduce some of the outrage sparked by stop and frisk, the city of Newark, NJ has recently begun reporting monthly data on race, gender and age when their officers stop and frisk someone.
But will reporting be enough to placate the opponents of stop-and-frisk? If it’s merely a matter of transparency about who is getting stopped and the results of the stops, shouldn’t most police agencies be able to comply? Isn’t reporting a better solution than eliminating stop-and-frisk altogether? Weigh in now…