I read an article in this week’s edition of The Economist titled “Too frisky” written about the constitutionality of a New York City policy commonly referred to as “Stop and Frisk.” This policy outlines an officers rights to stop citizens who they suspect will break the law. The exact details of the NYC Criminal Procedure Law 140.50 four sections boil down to:
- If an officer thinks a person is about to, already has, or is currently breaking the law, they may ask for their name, address and an explanation.
- Same as above, in the area around any courthouse
- If an officer feels in danger, they may search the person for weapons or objects potentially leading to a crime. If found, the officer can keep it until the end of questioning, then they must return it, if owned legally, or arrest the person.
- In large cities, officers may not electronically record the name, address, or SSN of those stopped (unless of course, it led to an arrest), only generic characteristics like race, gender, and age.
The article referenced an incident on a night when a 13-year-old black male was stopped, searched, and arrested. No weapons were found, only a phone. He wasn’t charged for a crime either, but was still handcuffed and taken back to the station. While at the station, his parents arrived, his father, a retired cop, was arrested for punching a cop in the face. Those assault charges were acquitted almost an entire month later. The family believes their son was questioned, searched, and arrested because of his race. Now this policy faces the federal courts over its constitutionality.
The problem does not reside in the policy but in those enforcing the policy. The procedure, as I linked to and outlined above, states nothing about the race of the individual in question. It follows the Fourth Amendment: officers can search the individual within reason, and if they were to confiscate a legal object, they may not seize it. I just don’t see where these rules contradicts the Constitution. Of all the news reports I read concerning this story, nearly all of them attack the police department policy as if it encourages all officers to stop and question every black man they see. I don’t think a single article put any emphasis on incriminating the two officers who stopped, questioned, and arrested the 13-year-old boy. Did they commit the wrong? Did they not abuse their authority by making an arrest with no charges? Yet it’s not these two officers brought into light by this article, it’s the policy.
Let’s say the court rules the policy unconstitutional. What happens? Officers will no longer stop suspicious individuals? An undercover cop sees a man with a crowbar crossing the street towards a parking lot at three in the morning, and can’t do anything about it? What if they just change the procedure a little bit to where the officers need more probable cause in order to search an individual? How embarrassing for the department if there was a man who was charged and convicted of murder and it just so happened the man was stopped and questioned by police officers right before the crime? But with the new rules, the officers weren’t allowed to search the man? The statistic needed most to support this NYC procedure does not exist: crimes prevented. Who knows how many potential criminals changed their mind out of fear of Stop and Frisk? How many more criminals might start wandering the streets knowing no one will stop and question them? Numbers can’t record this, and neither is this a strong argument.
I am not a criminal. I do not carry illegal weapons. I have no fear walking around at night, and if an officer were to stop me, he would have no grounds to arrest me. Only criminals want this policy to go away, due to fear. If you think this policy targets individuals due to race, you are wrong. Those enforcing the policy need to feel justice if they do no follow the procedure. Some of those enforcing the policy might have racially bias motives. It frustrates me when people try to fix a problem without trying to understand the source of the problem first.
Thanks for reading, please comment, I’m interested in what others have to say about this subject.