Mayor Lee's Stop-and-Frisk Idea Was Not Just Controversial, but Uncreative

On May 16, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin granted class-action status to a lawsuit opposing New York City's stop-and-frisk policy. As the New York Times reported, “she was disturbed by the city's 'deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers' most fundamental constitutional rights.'”

In her ruling, Scheindlin cited several of Columbia University law and public health professor Jeffrey Fagan's “factual determinations”:

  • Between 2004 and 2009, NYPD officers conducted at least 170,000 unlawful frisks — where there was no reasonable suspicion to stop the person.
  • In 4,000 of those stops, “police gave no reason other than 'high crime area' to justify the stop.”
  • “The percentage of documented stops for which police officers failed to list an interpretable 'suspected crime' has grown dramatically from 1.1 percent in 2004 to 35.9 percent in 2009.”
  • “Guns were seized in .15 percent of all stops. This despite the fact that 'suspicious bulge' was cited as a reason for 10.4 percent of all stops.”
  • “Police officers are more likely to list no suspected crime category (or an incoherent one) when stopping Blacks and Latinos than when stopping Whites.”

Six weeks after and 3,000 miles away from Scheindlin's order, Mayor Ed Lee announced that he was considering implementing stop-and-frisk in San Francisco. Apparently, a meeting with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg had turned him onto the strategy. For more than a month, Lee stood firm through a wave of outrage. But this week, he is backing away from the idea, without ever having explained why it would work better here than it has in other cities.

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