Ulrich: Stop And Pander
Reading Councilman Eric Urlich's column last week gave me pause for alarm. Is my district really being represented by someone who seems to have a hard time understanding basic constitutional rights?
You'll have to forgive me, but I should probably add that a little common sense might come in handy as well the next time the councilman decides to chime in on policy. The policy in question is Stop and Frisk and there's really only one question that warrants debate: does it reduce crime? The official narrative the councilman parrots here is that violence plagued communities like Far Rockaway need to be stopped and frisked to apparently save them from themselves.
Well, we should probably even take a step back and first take a look at the constitutionality of the tactic to begin with. Does it reduce crime? The premise here, and one that the councilman begins his column with, is that stop and frisk was intended to be a general crime fighting tool. The Mayor, whose talking pointsthe councilman seems to regurgitate, doesn't even go so far when he promotes it as way to "get guns off streets." So now the framework for when stop and frisk has been deemed to be constitutional is already getting blurry.
A quick wikipedia search of "Terry v. Ohio" will reveal that the legal basis for stop and frisk was to balance the safety of police officers with the rights afforded citizens by the fourth amendment ("guarding against unreasonable searches and seizures") by allowing them to perform "terry stops" if the police officer has a "reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person may be armed and presently dangerous."--not fight crime carte blanche.
These are high standards. The idea that the NYPD can use them to fight crime across the board, including low level crimes, is an extremist interpretation at best and a violation of the constitution at worst. A better question, then, might be: does it effectively find guns? It finds guns less than 0.5% of the time. Perhaps the "reasonable suspicion" of officers is influenced by the illegal quota system that current NYPD officers have testified about in federal court recently.
But the councilman's district has less than half the stop and frisks as the neighboring 31st district, which we all know is predominantly black and latino the main victims of this dragnet tactic. So it's no surprise then that the councilman could write such a careless and un-researched opinion piece. His constituents aren't being stopped and frisked as much as our neighbors to the east, so perhaps it's just campaign season pandering to the base. He forgets to tell them that 99.5 percent of stop and frisks don't turn up with a gun--which is, remember, what stop and frisks are supposed to be designed to find. It's quite disturbing, then, to see an elected official blindly supporting such an ineffective policy. And ineffective it has proven to be: recent 2013 data shows that crime in the City has declined as stop and frisk has. So the correlation between the tactic and crime reduction that the councilman touts, isn't actually proven by the most recent evidence.
That might surprise some folks. But not as surprised as I was when I read his caricature of stop and frisk critics ("detractors,” "professional police critics"). Only an elected official (barely seen in his own storm-ravaged community post-storm) who has lost complete touch with the City could paint civil libertarians, community youth groups, criminologists, ex-cops, clergy and unpaid activists as some sort of malcontents. And his quip about "professional police critics" might now have to include the United States Department of Justice, which recently voiced its support for reform.
Maybe he's banking on reaching a certain conservative audience who believes the President wasn't born here or that climate change is a hoax. The traditional conservative mind, as I understand it, might be inclined to be wary of government--including checks on their power. That might include something like an Inspector General for the NYPD as one of the Community Safety Act bills, that are up for vote soon, will create.
Supporters of stop and frisk (and other civil liberties violations) routinely and predictably bottom line their argument by implying that if you've got nothing to hide then you shouldn't be worried. Mom always said what's good for the goose is good for the gander. What does the NYPD have to hide? The FDNY, Department of Education, Human Resources Administration and other City agencies have independent oversight. In fact, the LAPD, the FBI and the CIA have it too. If you've got nothing to hide then you shouldn't be worried.
As usual, the false choices laid out by people like my councilman are, quite simply, fear mongering. The strawman argument that opponents of stop and frisk don't want any policing at all or that we're not concerned with violence in our communities are the kool aid that both he and our outgoing billionaire Mayor have tried to have New Yorkers drink for the past few years. And it's not working: majority opinion in the City is now decidedly against stop and frisk abuse--and that majority is growing.