NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” Found Unconstitutional, But Was This a Good Decision?

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” procedure unconstitutional, indicating it amounted to “racial profiling.” Sounds like a solid win for the Fourth Amendment, right? Maybe not.

As Mayor Bloomberg explained:

As recently as 1990, New York City averaged more than six murders a day. Today, we’ve driven that down to less than one murder a day. If murder rates over the last 11 years had been the same as the previous 11 years, more than 7,300 people who today are alive would be dead.

Stop-Question-Frisk has helped us prevent those and other crimes from occurring — which has not only saved lives, it has helped us to reduce incarceration rates by 30 percent, even as incarceration rates in the rest of the nation have gone up.

Nonetheless, the New York Civil Liberties Union alleged that, “hundreds of thousands” of the over 5 million stops that occured since the programs implementation were, “illegal and discriminatory.” There is no evidence to suggest this is the case nor is there evidence to suggest that officers employ stop an frisk without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. 

According to Reuters, the numbers are as follows:

The number of stops rose to 685,724 in 2011 from 160,851 in 2003, with about half resulting in physical searches, a 2012 report by the New York Civil Liberties Union showed.

In 2011, there were more frisk searches of young black men than the total number of such men living in the city, the report found.

Only 1.8 percent of blacks and Latinos searched by the police in 2011 had weapons on them, compared with 3.8 percent of whites, the NYCLU report said.

But is this evidence of willful racial discrimination or “unreasonable” search and seizure? Bloomberg explained that the plaintiff’s own expert witness testified that 90 percent of stops were conducted lawfully and at least 5 percent more were likely also conducted lawfully. Heather MacDonald of the New York Post clarifies. Scheindlin, she explains, “believes that population ratios are the proper benchmark for measuring the legality of stop activity.” Essentially, “though whites and Asians commit less than 1 percent of violent crime in the 88th Precinct and less than 6 percent of all crime, according to Scheindlin 40 percent of all stops should be of whites and Asians, to match their representation in the local population.”

The ill-written decision (quite literally the most poorly written, constructed and reasoned federal decision I’ve ever read) veiled as a Fourth Amendment win, appears to be nothing more than political correctness brokering. Scheindlin ordered a monitor to oversee the NYPD’s procedural changes as well as a trial period where NYPD officers would be required to wear on-person cameras. 

Bloomberg argued, “People have a right to walk down the street without being targeted by the police — and we have a duty to uphold that right… But people also have a right to walk down the street without being killed or mugged.”

Bloomberg, who has properly earned the nickname, “Nanny Bloomberg” due to his infatuation with policies that restrict civil liberties, presents a false choice. ‘Surrender to gross Fourth Amendment violations or be murdered’ is not an honest discussion. The Fourth Amendment safeguards us from actions that would employ what’s seemingly effective over what’s clearly constitutional. Neither is it appropriate to use the Fourth Amendment to push baseless diversity initiatives. While Scheindlin’s motives are suspect, I’ll choose to err on the side of constitutionality over utility.