New York City police have stopped at least 4 million people on the streets in the past decade. Most were black and Hispanic men.
About half of those were simply questioned, although there is nothing simple about a policeman stopping a citizen. Some had their bags or backpacks searched; some received a patdown. Only 10 percent of the stops yielded an arrest and uncovered what could be seen as potential criminals.
So in 2004, four men, all minorities, filed a class-action lawsuit that was presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin. She recently ruled against the NYPD "stop-and-frisk" tactics.
The ruling seems to go against the steady drop in NYC's crime rate for the past 23 years. It seems to go against the support it gets from 46 percent of New Yorkers. But the practice also goes against common sense, and respect for constitutional treatment of residents, particularly young men. "Stop-and-frisk" is racially discriminatory.
Scheindlen said the department made thousands of such street stops. She appointed a monitor to direct changes in the department. The judge also ordered a pilot program for cameras to be worn by police.
Some say her decision is a one-two punch to the country's biggest police department. Many of us, however, realize it is a logical step in administering reforms in the largest city in America.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted the judge's decision, calling her "some woman" who knew "absolutely zero" about police work. He shouldn't bash judges.
Safety is indeed paramount in New York City. So, of course, is the constitutional dignity of each of its citizens. And it is fair to say that if that tactic had continued unchallenged, it could easily filter down to smaller police departments around the country. When that happens, city leaders tend to turn a blind eye to the tactics. That's what happened in New York City.
Other questionable procedures, such as detaining someone to prevent a crime or coercing confessions, may work in solving crimes. But no matter that such tactics are effective — they are wrong.
So is "stop-and-frisk." Police departments will have to become wiser in enforcing the law. It's sad, though, that it takes harassed citizens and a federal judge to tell a major police department how it should treat people.
A federal judge got it right in ruling that New York City police can't continue a policy of stopping and frisking people who "look" like they might be criminals.
Do you think police should use "stop-and-frisk" procedures?
Yes, it helps find criminals
No, it can be discriminatory