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Op-Ed: The Problem with "The Problem with Stop and Frisk"

4/11/2013, 4:21 p.m.
Here's the article I was going to write in a nutshell: Opening Question: Would you...
Stop and Frisk on trial: week three

Here's the article I was going to write in a nutshell:

  • Opening Question: Would you invest $1,000 in a company if you knew that in 5 years, you would get back $1001.01?
  • Population of NYC: 8.2 million people
    • Black residents: 2 million (25.5%)
    • Hispanic or Latino residents: 2.3 million (28.6%)
  • Number of random stops and frisks by the NYPD: 684,000 (8.3% of the population)
    • 369,360 (54%) were Black
    • 232,560 (34%) were Hispanic or Latino
    • 61,560 (9%) were white
  • Number of guns found by police: 819
  • Arguments
  • Mayor Michael Bloomberg, owner of a billion dollar business that deals in statistical information, must realize that 684,000 stops in order to remove 819 guns from the street is grossly inefficient. I surmise that he would reject a business opportunity with a 0.11974% rate of return if that opportunity were offered to him in his capacity as owner of Bloomberg, LP.
  • The Mayor and Police Chief can argue that this tactic removes hundreds of guns from the streets. It's true. But there's two things wrong with this argument: (1) It ignores the ratio of stops to guns (above) and (2) those 819 people were just unlucky. People adjust. Guns are kept at home, in cars, in a stash box, in bibles, etc. and what often happens is that a person who finds himself "wronged" will go upstairs or to the car and retrieve the gun. There is absolutely nothing that stopping and frisking citizens can do to prevent this.
  • The NYPD is stopping and frisking nearly 10% of the entire city's population. How is that not a problem?
  • There may be evidence to back up a claim that the Black/Hispanic/Latino population commits crime out of proportion to the actual population. However, I simply refuse to believe that 54% of the population is committing 88% of the crime in the city. (Hubris, perhaps?) Furthermore, there is an argument to be made for police being more lenient on some would-be "criminals" than others that also helps to explain the discrepancy.
  • Conclusion
    • End stop and frisk. I may want police protection. I may even request it. But I don't want to be harassed in the process. I don't want my neighbors to feel they can't trust the police because department policy makes the individual officers look bad. I want my tax dollars going to strategies with higher rates of return (with the phrase "higher rates of return" being a clear reference to the beginning of the article and to the Mayor's career as a business owner).

Two weeks ago, I could've written that article and walked away completely satisfied with it. However, an issue has come to my attention that trumps any point I might have made before - the Mayor of New York City has no authorization to stop and frisk citizens in the first place! As such, the last 477 words that I've written, while important, distract from this primary point.

You may be wondering how I came to this conclusion. I submit the following for your approval:

In 1968, the Supreme Court decided Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, which authorizes a police officer to "conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing" of a person for the protection of himself and others. This authorization occurs after the officer "observes unusual conduct" and based on his experience, this unusual conduct leads him to believe that "crime is afoot and that the person he is dealing with is armed and dangerous." An officer in this situation must identify himself as a police officer, make reasonable inquiries, and can only search the suspect if "nothing in the initial stages of the encounter serves to dispel his reasonable fear for his own or others' safety."