Stop and search. It’s not the policy which a federal judge ruled unconstitutional in August of 2013, fundamentally changing the way police operate in New York City and nationwide.
It is essentially the same thing, only Britain’s version. Importantly for Americans and New Yorkers specifically, the debate which resulted in the repeal of Britain’s stop and search policy virtually mirrors the same course of action that unfolded in America.
Unfortunately for Americans, the results of the repeal in Britain are in, and they are ugly.
Knife crimes in England have reached a five-year high in the first year since the stop and search practice was abolished. The shame is, this was predictable. It was preventable.
Those that lived in New York prior to Rudy Giuliani’s term as mayor witnessed the Big Apple transform from a crime-riddled metropolis to a reasonably safe city for its residents and tourists alike to explore. Finally, Central Park was safe to walk in at dusk.
The enforcement of petty crimes and, more importantly, the implementation of stop, question, and frisk policing resulted in a precipitous drop in crime. It fundamentally changed the city for the better.
Here is one former New York City police captain’s description of the nuances that go into legal stop, question and frisk inquiries:
“When I was a rookie 31 years ago, we were taught that police have a “common law right of inquiry,” meaning we could ask questions about almost anything we see on the street. But unless there were factors elevating a situation to reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is about to be committed, a person could choose not to answer and walk away.
However, if the cop could articulate reasonable suspicion of a possible crime, he or she had the authority to stop someone and ask questions. Still, if based on the subject’s answers, the suspicion level did not escalate to probable cause for an arrest, the person would be released immediately.
This was only a “stop-and-question.” The “frisk” part of the equation did not come into play except on two occasions: First, if possession of a weapon was suspected. Second, if reasonable suspicion of a possible crime escalated to probable cause to arrest for an actual crime based on facts developed after the initial stop-and-question.”
The same former captain acknowledged that police departments began to keep detailed statistics on every stop and frisk encounter. This was due to the development of a widely-used record-keeping system developed in the 1990s known as CompStat. This system not only helped to keep detailed records on criminals, but also on the police themselves. In terms of stop and frisk, the meticulous records system allowed for a more accurate assessment of how police practices led to an increase in criminal arrests, and in turn the decrease in crime that would eventually result from such practices.
The fact is that criminals are acutely aware when police are in the vicinity, and they are more than happy to refrain from committing crime for the brief time in which 5-0 rolls onto the block. Therefore, a system that approaches crime more realistically, a system that is aimed at assessing suspicious behavior and the likelihood that criminal activity either occurred or will occur, is necessary to effectively police.
The statistics which resulted from the development of CompStat led to an irrefutable conclusion: stop, question and frisk led to a dramatic reduction in crime.
A detailed report from The New York Times, of all publications, documented the effectiveness of stop and frisk not only in New York City, but other large urban cities.
Here are some important excerpts:
“In 1990, New York had 527,257 victims of “serious crimes.” In 2011, there were 106,064. Murders dropped in that period from 2,262 to 504.”
“Research has converged on the conclusion that a shift from reactive to proactive policing by the N.Y.P.D. has played the crucial role in what the criminologist Franklin Zimring called a “Guinness Book of World Records crime drop.”
“While crime rose in many large cities over the past decade, it continued to decline in New York City. Zimring singles out the use of focused vigilance with “hot spot” policing, which began in 2002, as a particularly plausible explanation. Our research shows that a central element of that approach is the increased use of stop and frisk in high-crime neighborhoods.”
Philadelphia’s reporting of crime during and after when “stop and frisk” was being used tells a story that could not be any clearer:
“According to recent news accounts, when Philadelphia was making stops at a higher rate per capita than New York, crime declined, but violent crime began to rise when the stops were reduced after a consent decree following a legal challenge.”
Critics of stop and frisk frequently cite statistics that show that murder rates do not necessarily decline as a result of the practice. They’re not necessarily wrong, they’re just making an incomplete argument. Crime, period, should be reduced by any means within legal and ethical parameters. Arguing that the most heinous crime there is, murder, is the only relevant metric in the discussion of stop and frisk’s effectiveness in reducing crime is asinine.
But, despite these statistics showing an irrefutable correlation between stop and frisk implementation and reduced crime in cities including New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, Judge Shira Scheindlin deemed the practice unconstitutional due to reasons related to racial profiling.
Essentially, she gave into minority community pressure, ignoring the role stop and frisk played in reducing crime, instead focusing on the plight of those who were searched without having committed a crime.
Critics of the ruling included former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton and leftward leaning mayor Michael Bloomberg, who led an appeal of the decision. Bloomberg explained his rationale bluntly:
“I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying.”
Scheindlin offered this tone-deaf response to those who criticized her ruling:
“They didn’t seem to understand the impact of these policies on real people and real neighborhoods and real communities and the detrimental impact it was having, even on policing. And that’s the point. They didn’t seem to get it. It was all about fear — New York would blow up.”
They didn’t understand the effect of stop and frisk on real people and real neighborhoods? Like, reducing crime at the risk of frisking some people that didn’t deserve it? That kind of impact?
Valuing the feelings of some people who get unjustly frisked over a widespread reduction in crime is something that most rational people simply don’t agree with. Increased city-wide safety with some inconvenience thrown in, or an increase in city-wide crime so that some people will not have their feelings hurt.
Which would you choose?
Judge Scheindlin was not alone in choosing the latter. In 2015, then Home Secretary in Britain and now Prime Minister Theresa May did the same.
“In 2015, Home Secretary May introduced reforms to cut police use of stop and search, alleging the tactic is “unfair, especially to young black men.”
Later that year May slammed warnings by senior police chiefs that the reduction in stops and searches by officers was fueling rising knife crime in London as “false.”
The then home secretary insisted the reforms would “actually help reduce knife crime,” in a speech which blasted the police for being ‘too white.'”
The statistics show that May was dead wrong:
“The year ending December 2016 saw 32,448 criminal offences involving a blade or other sharp weapon take place in Britain, a rise of 14 percent from the previous year and the biggest knife crime total since 2011.
With five young men having been stabbed to death in London already this year, police warn that these are the first signs of a knife crime epidemic in major UK cities.
The increase comes as figures revealed the number of stops and searches shrunk 57 per cent in 2015-16 compared to 2013-14.”
What will it take to convince people that stop and frisk works? Hard evidence is apparently not persuasive enough.
As is the case in Britain now, American cities that were prevented by Judge Scheindlin from continuing to use stop and frisk policing tactics will see an increase in crime as a result.
It’s simple. Crime was more prevalent in each documented city before stop and frisk was used, and it will again rise now that one judge decided it’s a racist practice.
Finding a criminal after the crime has been committed is difficult enough. To find a perpetrator in a city as populous as New York or Los Angeles is like finding a needle in a haystack. Preventing police from questioning and ultimately searching suspicious persons is like refusing to ask your two kids which one took the cookie from the jar.
Because the one that didn’t take the cookie might feel unjustly accused, even if for just a moment.
Which gets to the heart of the issue with stop and frisk. Yes, crime is more prevalent in primarily minority neighborhoods. Blame police concentration or other circumstances, but this is a fact.
To stop criminals in these neighborhoods from reducing the quality of life of their own neighbors, some innocent people are going to be searched. It’s a necessary part of finding the true perpetrators.
Some feelings will be hurt, but it’s a small price to pay to keep the populace safer. If we value feelings over safety and in this vein outlaw practices such as stop and frisk, crime will increase.
Stop and frisk is a deterrent to potential criminals, and removing this deterrent will result in an obvious outcome which Britain has already seen: more crime and more lives negatively affected by said crime.
But hey, at least nobody will be patted down unjustly, right?