We have never understood the argument of those who maintain that New York City’s stop and frisk program discriminates against minority citizens. Stop and frisk calls for focusing on certain high-crime areas – which if they happen to be populated mostly by minorities is necessarily going to result in more minorities being stopped. So it makes no sense to extrapolate from this that minorities are being singled out in a discriminatory fashion.
On the other hand, if police officers engaging in stop and frisk in fact employ criteria that are subjective – such as fidgety movements, sudden change of direction, walking in a certain way, grabbing at a pocket or looking over one’s shoulder – any constitutional issues would center not on racial discrimination but on the right to be left alone.
Unfortunately, there are those who merge the concepts and muddy the waters. Thus, on Monday, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin appointed a monitor for the NYPD program after ruling that the department practiced a “policy of indirect racial profiling” when it increased the number of stops in minority communities which involved stopping “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.” An elusive distinction at best. She went on to say that “blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectivity-founded suspicion than whites.”
Certainly a way has to be found to ensure that the NYPD acts in a manner that “protects the rights and civil liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection.”
Thus, Judge Scheindlin did not strike down the program, as some are erroneously charging, but rather ordered some reforms, including oversight by a monitor.
The problem is that the program as it is currently set up has worked spectacularly in driving down crime. And no one knows how effective it will be after the Scheindlin reforms are factored in, with input by those with no practical experience in police work and with a definite civil liberties bent.
Plainly, stop and frisk should properly be viewed primarily as a matter of maximizing crime prevention while maintaining a proper regard for civil liberties – not the other way around. With that in mind, Mayor Bloomberg is right to appeal the Scheindlin decision.