Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
August 30, 2013
The New York City Police Department was rocked recently when a federal judge ruled that the “stop-and-frisk” tactics used by police violated the constitutional rights of potentially millions of citizens. The collateral consequences of this decision will be the loss of innocent lives.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin called NYC’s stop-and-frisk tactics "indirect racial profiling." The police used the tactic more than 4.4 million times between 2004 and 2012. The vast majority of the stops were of blacks, 52 percent, and Hispanics, 31 percent.
Twelve percent of all stops resulted in an immediate arrest or charges by mail. Eighty-eight percent resulted in no further law enforcement action.
"The City’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner," wrote Scheindlin.
When a police officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot she may detain an individual and may run her hands lightly over the suspect's clothing to determine if the person is carrying a concealed weapon.
Judge Scheindlin did not say that stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional. She couldn’t. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear in Terry v. Ohio that stop-and-frisk was constitutional.
At the time, the court ruled that a plain-clothed Cleveland police officer did not violate the constitutional rights of an individual whose conduct, pacing outside a store, raised a reasonable suspicion. The officer stopped the individual, patted down the outside of his clothing and discovered a gun, which led to his arrest.
Judge Scheindlin instead focused on NYC’s tactics, "In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution."
In NYC, officials argued that it was prudent to place a disproportionate share of its resources in minority neighborhoods with high crime rates and that its practices were "not racially biased policing."
Opponents of stop-and-frisk argued that the police stops were discriminatory because they did not reflect the city’s overall census numbers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg argued in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post that opponents of stop-and-frisk are using flawed logic. Bloomberg writes that not targeting high-crime neighborhoods would result in an absurd strategy that would result in “far more crimes committed against black and Latino New Yorkers. When it comes to policing, political correctness is deadly.”
NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defended the department’s stop-and-frisk practices during a round of television appearances. He emphatically claimed there’s “no question” violent crime will spike if stop-and-frisk is abandoned.
"The losers in this, if this case is allowed to stand, are people who live in minority communities," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Why? Ninety-seven percent of shooting victims are black or Hispanic. If stop-and-frisk deters a killing, and there have been more than 7,300 fewer killings in NYC in the last 11 years, the life that is saved will most likely be black or Hispanic.
In 1990, there were 2,245 murders in the NYC. Last year, the number was 414, the lowest since police began keeping records. Statistics for the first six months of this year revealed an astounding 25 percent drop in homicides compared with the same period in 2012.
Franklin Zimring, a professor of UC Berkeley School of Law, told Newsday, "This isn't a return to the good old days, this is breaking new ground."
There is no single explanation for NYC’s spiraling crime rates. However, it would be a mistake to pooh-pooh the impact of stop-and-frisk.
NYC officials are convinced that without stop-and-frisk crime rates will climb. More armed criminals will commit more murders. The people this decision aims to protect — blacks and Hispanics — will feel the brunt of the inevitable increase in violent crime.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.