We were disappointed, but not surprised, to see that U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin determined that the Police Department’s aggressive use of stop and frisk is unconstitutional. Scheindlin clearly had determined that before hearing the first word of testimony in the case that resulted in her anti-police, anti-city, anti-peace ruling on Monday.
Scheindlin found that the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk to search people deemed suspicious, primarily in an effort to get guns off the street, violates the rights of citizens in two ways. First, it violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. Second, it violates the 14th Amendment dictum of equal protection under the law by targeting black and Latino citizens far more often than whites.
There’s no question that more blacks and Latinos are searched than whites are. There’s also no question that blacks and Latinos are disproportionately involved in violent crime. Together they comprise more than 90 percent of homicide suspects in the city, as well as more than 90 percent of victims. Naturally more searches occur in the neighborhoods where more minorities live.
But the historic reductions in crime the city has achieved over the last 20 years have disproportionately benefited blacks and Latinos. The murder rate has been cut by 80 percent since its record high in 1990, down to levels not seen since the mid-’50s. That’s something to celebrate.
Instead many voice fear of the police. Their concerns shouldn’t simply be dismissed, but let’s get real: How could you be more afraid of the people who have sworn to serve and protect the public than the people who have made a career of preying on the public? Yes, there is the occasional bad police shooting, but those are rare, and, just like all homicides here, much more rare than they used to be.
Comptroller John Liu recently claimed that New York’s minorities live in a “police state” because of stop and frisk. Nonsense. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner likened the situation to that of 1938 Germany at the dawn of the Holocaust. Disgusting. (But what about Anthony Weiner isn’t?)
That’s not to say that no change is needed. Maybe the Police Department should stop sending its newest officers into the worst neighborhoods. Certainly it should redouble its efforts to connect with the minority communities whose residents largely distrust the police. And it’s already reduced the number of frisks officers conduct.
But we worry that the restrictions Scheindlin ordered on the NYPD — and those the City Council plans to enact over Mayor Bloomberg’s veto — might result in a resurgence of violent crime. One thing the critics of stop and frisk never acknowledge is its deterrent effect. You’re a lot less inclined to go walking around with a gun if you know one wrong move could result in a frisk by a sharp-eyed cop. That deterrent will disappear if stop and frisk is largely ended.
And that’s what the result of Scheindlin’s decision and the Council’s so-called Community Safety Act would be. Not reform of stop and frisk but its effective elimination. The new deterrent will be against police officers who will have second thoughts about confronting suspects knowing that a judicially imposed outside monitor, a legislatively imposed inspector general, and who knows who else will be looking over their shoulder hoping to find the least little mistake that could lead to yet more restrictions on the NYPD’s crime-fighting capability.
We hope the pending overregulation of New York’s Finest doesn’t result in more violent crime, but logic and reason say that’s a very real possibility. Be careful out there.