After nearly twenty years of some of the most effective policing in America, a liberal federal judge has let political correctness trump common sense and slapped a set of legal handcuffs on the New York City Police Department. Stop and Frisk, New York’s program of gun control for criminals and one of the most effective police tactics, has been declared “racial profiling” and must cease.
In 1992, New York had 1,995 murders; last year, only 419. Other violent street crime was down by 70 percent over the same period. The city’s drop in crime was twice as steep and lasted longer than the national decline. Violent crime continued to fall even amid a serious economic downturn, with the result that New York is the safest big city in America.
Police estimate that in 1992 there were as many as 2 million illegal guns in circulation in New York City; nobody knows how many there are today, but it is far, far fewer. Much of that reduction was because of Stop and Frisk.
According to the New York Post, “if the judge’s ruling is allowed to stand, the price to the city will be incalculable. And the victims of her judicial caprice will overwhelmingly be our city’s poor and minority populations.”
That is because about 80 percent of the people who have been stopped and frisked over the years are black and Hispanic. Trouble is, the majority of crime in New York is committed by blacks and Hispanics, and the majority of victims are also black and Hispanic.
Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin, a Bill Clinton appointee whose liberalism and antipathy toward law enforcement are palpable (The Washington Post‘s liberal columnist Richard Cohen writes that he “has zero faith in the impartiality of this particular judge”) decided, in a pair of opinions stretching to 234 pages, that the welfare of the city’s poor, minority population was less important than her adherence to the liberal shibboleth of racial profiling.
In doing so, she all but overturned the sophisticated, data-driven crime-fighting tactics of the NYPD. In its place, the judicial activist will appoint a monitor to handcuff the police instead of criminals. City hall’s most liberal politicians may soon follow suit, piling an inspector general for the NYPD on top of that. Those outside watchdog groups will second-guess the decisions that transformed the “ungovernable city” into one of the safest largest urban areas in the country.
As an Associated Press reporter put it, “After years of burnishing a reputation as one of the nation’s most potent police forces, the New York Police Department appears poised to become one of the most closely monitored.”
The city has already filed an appeal. Perhaps the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will look at things more sensibly.
As a crime-fighting technique, Stop and Frisk is tough to criticize. People who are loitering in neighborhoods that have suffered repeated burglaries and break-ins, peering in car windows, or behaving suspiciously can be stopped and questioned, and if suspicions continue, the police can frisk them for weapons. Precinct commanders have the discretion to monitor trends within their jurisdiction. This is a more proactive–and more effective–approach than simply waiting for crime to happen and going out to arrest suspects.
Those who actually know something about law enforcement do not think this reduction in crime will last if judge Scheindlin get her way. “Violent crime will go up,” New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly predicted on Meet the Press. He said, “This is something that’s integral to policing.”
Kelly excoriated Scheindlin. “The judge has indicted the entire New York City Police Department, 35,000 officers, of racial profiling on the flimsiest of evidence,” he said. “The case had four plaintiffs and concentrated on just 19 stops by the police.”
Stop and frisk was part of a series of tough-on-crime initiatives pioneered by Republican New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, during the 1990s, and has continued unabated under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Along with applying the “broken windows” theory–the idea that small social disturbances will, if tolerated, promote crime and larger dysfunctions–and growing the police force, they managed to cut the number of murders by 56 percent from the 1990 peak before Giuliani’s first term was even over.
I spoke with former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese about the case this week, who sees right through this charade. “It is unfortunate that a Federal Court has interfered with a legitimate police operation that was making safer many of New York’s most vulnerable neighborhoods,” he told me. “Citizens of all races who live in these communities have praised the police for protecting them against violent predators. The results in terms of crime reduction show that the police were effective against the most persistent criminals.”
While some cooler heads remain in city hall, the court decision has started a bidding war among liberal politicians to see who can most quickly and effectively demagogue the very policies that have kept the streets safe for their constituents. Former city councilman Bill Thompson, one of the leading Democratic candidates for mayor, says he will replace Kelly as police commissioner.
Saying the NYPD’s top cop was “in denial,” Thompson said “we need a Police Commissioner who can reduce crime without violating the Constitution.” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio used the controversy to bash City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one of the few major Democrats in the mayoral race standing by Kelly.
“Speaker Quinn’s choice for police commissioner made clear he will not yield one inch in his defense of stop and frisk,” said de Blasio. “His remarks show there is no way a Quinn administration can break with the failed policing strategies of the Bloomberg administration that have led to such a deep divide between police and community.”
But this would really be a break with the policing strategies of the Giuliani administration, which turned the city around, and a return to the demonstrably failed policies of a host of liberal mayors from John Lindsay to David Dinkins.
But even Quinn, whose poll numbers have risen as Anthony Weiner’s have sunk, is now getting into the act. “Ending unconstitutional stops, putting an inspector general in the police department will not cause crime to rise,” she insisted at a press conference, falling into line.
The worst part of this ruling is that its effects will not be confined to New York City. It will encourage copycat litigation elsewhere and no doubt will find friendly lawyers in Eric Holder’s Justice Department.
Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, one of the country’s leading experts on crime and one whose head is unclouded by political correctness told me that:
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin has set back the cause of public safety across the country. By embracing a flawed statistical model for demonstrating alleged racial profiling, she has invited lawsuits against any police department that is fighting crime where law-abiding residents most need protection.
She continued, “Given the racial crime disparities in every American city, police agencies cannot target their resources to the highest crime neighborhoods without generating racially disparate enforcement activity.”
“The New York Police Department focused its efforts on poor minority communities in order to bring their hard-working members the most basic civil right: the ability to walk the streets without fear and predation,” Mac Donald concluded.
Most liberals, led by self-proclaimed civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and their cronies at the ACLU, will fall in line with Judge Scheindlin’s muddled thinking, ignoring the plight and struggles of the poor and underprivileged.