Stop And Frisk Backfires
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated; and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Amendment 4 U.S. Constitution
In 1791 our American Founding Fathers were well aware of the British use of Writs of Assistance which allowed occupying troops to search for untaxed manufactured goods and tea on which import taxes had not been paid. The anger over these demeaning searches was one of the main causes of the American revolution we celebrate this week.
Now our NYC Police Department has adopted a policy of stopping and frisking thousands of unarmed, law abiding NYC residents in an effort to reduce future crime. While a few potential criminals may have been caught in the web, thousands of young New Yorkers have learned to fear and distrust police officers.
A few years ago, the NYC Police Department, using the strategy of community policing, had local officers who knew the good guys and bad guys in their sector. With information from cooperative community residents, the stop and frisk tactics could be better targeted on those who have committed or are about to commit a crime.
Last week the NYC Council debated and passed two bills concerning police tactics. One would provide for an Inspector General to monitor the police department and the other would allow citizens to bring lawsuits against individual officers. These bills are belated, but unnecessary. The Bloomberg administration has less than six months to go. The new mayor is likely to appoint a police commissioner who adjusts police procedure so that stop and frisk is limited to those cases where a description of the suspect is available.
If the crime situation in a community is ever so pervasive that an extended period of random stop and frisk is suggested, local police should meet with local community leaders, elected officials, religious leaders, precinct council and community board leaders, tenant patrols and student leaders to suggest other strategies, or in an extreme situation agree to a limited period of stop and frisk.
During the recent City Council debate over the passage of the Community Safety Act, an overwhelming majority voted to bring these bill up for discussion. Members of the Council referred to the pain and anger of their constituents, family members and even themselves when stopped and frisked on NYC streets.
Councilmember Eric Ulrich personally attacked his colleagues for being more concerned about reelection than safety. While some other Councilmembers opposed the legislation, Councilmember Ulrich was the only one to make the debate a personal attack.
Our new city administration, along with a new City Council, will be faced with finding the best policy for keeping all New Yorkers safe, as well policies for rebuilding and protection of our community. Our community needs a Councilmember who can work with his colleagues to get the money we need. That job will be much more difficult if it appears that we have no concern for the pain and disrespect felt in the communities they represent.