Powered by TypePad

« "Londoners fight Olympic missiles at high court" | Main | "Global Efforts Not Up to Combating Criminals" »

July 11, 2012

"Courts Putting Stop-and-Frisk Policy on Trial"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new front-page article in today's New York Times, which gets started this way:

New York City’s accelerating use of police stop-and-frisk tactics has brought a growing chorus of opponents who have been matched in intensity only by the officials who defend the policy. But recent rulings by federal and state courts have now cast judges as the most potent critics of the practice, raising sharp questions about whether the city has sidestepped the Constitution in the drive to keep crime rates low.

The inescapable conclusion is that the city will eventually have to redefine its stop-and-frisk policy, legal experts say, and that the changes — whether voluntary or forced — will fundamentally alter how the police interact with young minority men on the streets.

Some legal experts say the police could be pushed into reducing the numbers of street stops of New Yorkers by hundreds of thousands a year, and that the proportion of stop-and-frisk subjects who are black and Latino would be sharply reduced.

A settlement last year of a class-action case involving stop-and-frisk policies in Philadelphia laid out a model that, if followed in New York, could call for the courts to supervise an imposed system of police monitoring and accountability.

The courts have been energized to step in, some lawyers say, as the debate has intensified over police tactics that have brought legal challenges, academic analysis and news coverage. “The decisions show that the courts are suspicious of the current police practices,” said Michael C. Dorf, a constitutional law professor at Cornell.

Randolph M. McLaughlin, a law professor at Pace University, said the new judicial attention was a product of the numbers: More than 80 percent of those stopped in New York are black or Latino, and last year there were 686,000 stops, with this year’s numbers heading higher. “People are starting to wonder: ‘What’s really going on here? Is this a racial policy?’ And judges read the newspaper too,” Professor McLaughlin said.

UPDATE:  Here is a fascinating new follow-up article in the New York Times concerning the use (and misuse?) of stop-and-frisk techniques in Philadelphia, which gets started this way:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York was dismissive when asked if his police department, under siege for the way it uses the stop-and-frisk tactic, might take a lesson from Philadelphia’s response to a similar challenge.  “Why would any rational person want to trade what we have here for the situation in Philadelphia — more murders, higher crime?”  Mr. Bloomberg said in May, referring to an epidemic of gun violence that in 2010 pushed Philadelphia’s homicide rate up for the first time since 2007, an increase that continued last year.

City leaders here see it differently.  A year after they settled litigation by agreeing to institute a host of safeguards to make sure police stops were conducted legally, they say they are simply doing what is needed to make sure that aggressive crime fighting is accompanied by a respect for civil rights.  As part of the agreement, the Police Department has set up an electronic database to track the legality of stops, adopted new training protocols and accepted oversight by an independent monitor.

Philadelphia’s willingness to put police procedures under the microscope has won praise even from the civil rights lawyers who in 2010 filed a class-action lawsuit, accusing police officers of disproportionately stopping African-American and Hispanic men without sufficient cause.  “The city agreed almost immediately after we filed suit to come to the table and discuss an amicable resolution,” said Paul Messing, one of the lawyers, adding that he thought Mayor Michael A. Nutter and other officials “understood that this presented serious constitutional concerns.”

Yet finding the right balance has not been easy.  City officials have watched in frustration as homicides have continued to climb.  As of late Tuesday, 189 people had been killed in the city this year, compared with 169 at the same time in 2011.

In most cases, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said, both the victims and the perpetrators have been black or Hispanic men.  “I think we have to face some realities,” said Commissioner Ramsey, who is black.  “We certainly do not want to be stopping people without the reasonable suspicion that we need to conduct a stop.  But just because someone is complaining and they want to play the race card doesn’t mean it’s an inappropriate stop.”  The total number of stops, he said, is not the issue. “The question is: Are you stopping the right people for the right reason?”

Philadelphia, like New York, increased the use of the stop-and-frisk tactic, arguing that it would help remove guns from the streets and serve as a deterrent.  In his 2007 mayoral campaign, Mr. Nutter promised to use the strategy to help combat a “crime emergency” in some neighborhoods.  That year, police officers made 136,711 pedestrian stops.  Two years after Mr. Nutter was elected, in 2009, the number nearly doubled to 253,276 — higher proportionally, in a city of 1.5 million, than the 685,724 stops made by police officers in New York last year.

Commissioner Ramsey said many factors could be driving the increase in homicides, including reductions in police department staffing and the fact that “we have an enormous problem with guns in Philadelphia”; the penalties for possession of an illegal firearm in New York are far tougher than in Pennsylvania, he noted.

But he also said that after Philadelphia increased the use of the stop-and-frisk tactic a few years ago, gun violence decreased. There was a 22 percent reduction in homicides from 2007, a year before the policy began, to 2009, “and our shootings went down.” he said.

Mr. Messing, the civil rights lawyer, said the problem was that as the number of stops escalated, the number of complaints he received grew even faster. “We were seeing huge numbers of stops being made without legal cause,” he said, adding that very few arrests were made and that guns were seized in about only 1 in 1,000 stops.

July 11, 2012 in Crime data, Current Affairs | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c8ccf53ef0176165c51a8970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Courts Putting Stop-and-Frisk Policy on Trial":

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.