The City Council is considering a series of bills that we believe would be dangerous to all citizens of New York because they would hamper the Police Department’s ability to keep crime at the record low rates prevalent today.
The issue is the department’s use of stop and frisk — more correctly stop, question and frisk — to check suspicious-looking people for guns, other weapons, drugs or other contraband. Most of the bills under consideration would impose restrictions upon officers that could endanger their safety as well as that of the general public.
Make no mistake: We understand the concerns about stop and frisk and have no doubt that some officers abuse their power when questioning people. We understand that too many members of the minority community are questioned without just cause. But the Police Department is already making its own reforms of how stops are conducted, and much of what the City Council is considering would amount to throwing the baby out with the bath water.
A top concern is that the measures could leave the city more open to tremendous financial damages if plaintiffs successfully sue over stops they believe were unwarranted. Even as the council is debating the bills, a federal judge is hearing a number of cases brought by people who say they were wrongly frisked. Many of their stories are compelling and show the police in a negative light. But that doesn’t mean the taxpayers should be forced to pay them tens of millions of dollars as redress, a concern first brought to our attention by Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. of Astoria, the Public Safety Committee chairman.
Another issue is the proposal to make officers inform people who are stopped of their right to refuse a search and, in at least some cases, require them to obtain proof of the person’s consent. How is a cop who might, for example, be checking out someone who matches the description of the guy who just committed an armed robbery supposed to go about doing that?
The one element of the legislation that we find worth seriously considering is the creation of an inspector general’s office to oversee the NYPD. Vallone and other law-and-order members, like Whitestone Councilman Dan Halloran, agree. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says the department already has enough oversight, between the city’s five district attorneys, the Civilian Complaint Review Board and the NYPD’s own internal affairs unit. He has a point too. Let’s debate the IG proposal and leave the rest aside —just as a lot of criminals have been leaving their weapons aside, knowing they could be searched. The deterrent effect of stop and frisk is one element its critics seem to always overlook.