“When it comes to policing, political correctness is deadly,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg angrily wrote in an op-ed on The Washington Post on Monday.
His piece was in response to Federal District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s ruling last Monday in Floyd v. City of New York that the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city.
It’s a delicate balance to uphold, simultaneously protecting our civil liberties and our safety. Bloomberg wrote that while it is an American right to be able to walk down the street without being racially targeted by the police, it is also an American right to be able to walk down the street without being mugged or killed. His underlying sentiment here is that stop-and-frisk, regardless of how it is enforced, can effectively stop the next crime.
But why is the mayor so hell-bent on fighting based on suspicions?
According to the rules of stop-and-frisk, police officers are allowed to stop individuals they deem suspicious or about to commit a felony. The problem with allowing such preemptive behavior is that it does more harm than good. We’re seeing it now with protesters questioning the NSA surveillance programs, meant to preemptively stop terrorists. We see it day after day in our struggle to preemptively stop attacks from Al-Qaeda in the Middle East.
Yet crime still happens. Does that give us permission to further destroy the trust between civilians and law enforcement?
No, especially when the “frisks” are often futile. Out of all the stops that were followed by a protective frisk for weapons, “A weapon was found after 1.5% of these frisks,” Judge Scheindlin wrote. “In other words, in 98.5% of the 2.3 million frisks, no weapon was found.”
Still, Bloomberg praised the effectiveness of the program. Ten out of the 19 stops brought forward by the plaintiffs were considered constitutional, he countered in his op-ed.
But this is what Judge Scheindlin actually wrote: “I find nine of the stops and frisks were unconstitutional. I also find that while five other stops were constitutional, the frisks following those stops were unconstitutional.”
If the crime is one that cannot clearly be seen, don’t fight it. Police officers should not only have “reasonable suspicion” that they have a criminal on their hands — they should have 100% solid proof. Otherwise we descend into a system in which paranoia becomes a basis for action and citizens become more fearful of the very people that are there to protect them. Stop-and-frisk may be one legitimate tool in law enforcement, but police officers need to do a better job of fostering a positive relationship with the minorities they serve, if it is to be effective at all.
As expected, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly blasted the ruling as well on NBC’s Meet The Press. When asked by host David Gregory whether people would die if the program were stopped, he responded, “No question about it, violent crime will go up.”
Judge Scheindlin merely ordered that constitutional reforms be made to the program, not that stop-and-frisk be eliminated altogether. But if that is so difficult for the NYPD to do, then perhaps that goes to show how corrupt the program really is.