Over the last few months, New York City has experienced various court proceedings involving the Terry program carried out by the New York Police Department. Terry, which is commonly called the stop and frisk program, whereby a police officer can stop a suspicious individual and frisk him to determine whether the suspect is carrying a concealed weapon. This practice has been around for quite a long time. It is not until 1968, when the Supreme Court evaluated the Fourth Amendment in the case of TERRY vs. OHIO.
Before this case, the police could stop and frisk a person on the grounds of probable cause. Under the Fourth Amendment case law, a constitutional search and seizure can only be carried out based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The case stipulated that reasonable suspicion was sufficient for a constitutional search and seizure. However, the New York Police Department has been found at fault for misusing the law to their advantage. New York City, nevertheless, has a stop-and-frisk program found under the New York State Criminal Procedure Law.
This program enables the New York Police Department to stop, question, and frisk pedestrians and passengers for concealed weapons and other contraband items in an effort to curb crime before it can happen based on reasonable suspicion. Over some time, the system seems to have worked helping the police prevent crime in the city. In 2011, the police were able to frisk over six hundred thousand people.
It was confirmed that only about six percent of the stop-and-frisk has transpired into an arrest. However, a study by a police officer Adrian Schoolcraft showed that most of the people stopped for frisking were African-Americans or Latino. This led to a great outcry by the people and even some judges ruling that the stops were not done merely due to reasonable suspicion.
Since then, the issue has raised heated debates in the media as well as in the political arena. Debates from both sides have provided various emerging issues that are the center of the court ruling. Some of the key leaders who are supporting the stop-and-frisk program including the current and outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. They consider that stop-and-frisk is a great strategy in curbing crime in the city.
Reasons for the Program
One of the reasons for the program is a reduction in the murder rate. It is evident from the report that New York City has reduced number of crime cases, a situation the police have attributed to the program. For instance, in 2012, New York City crime rate was at its lowest with at least 414 homicide cases which was the lowest since 1963. However, critics have come up with the view that the reduction in the number of homicides was not due to the efforts of the program but rather the agility of the police forensic department. Bloomberg administration has credited the program for being responsible for the decline of the murder rate which has dropped from figures above five hundred in 2005 to about four hundred.
Secondly, the stop, question and frisk has enabled the police get the firearms off the New York street. Since 2004 to 2012, the total number of guns seized by the police has been 6030. This does not include other weapons that have been recovered by the New York Police Department. The statistics have shown a reduction in violent crimes attributed to the seizure of guns. Critics have questioned the efficiency of the program since it takes 1000 stops to recover one gun.
According to statistics by Tracey Meares, in 2012, the police made over a hundred thousand stops and only recovered 732 firearms. Tracey thereby concluded that it took the police 1000 stops to recover one gun citing it as a waste of money, time, and resources since the number was too small to justify the intrusion of freedom.
Furthermore, the reduction in violent crimes can be attributed to Bloombergs gun control measures that provided new legislation on gun possession and sales. The regulations also banned the sale of paint gun with the reason that it could enable criminals disguise real guns as toy guns. Nevertheless, the benefits of eliminating illegal firearms from the streets outweigh the hazards of the program.
Thirdly, the program has made identified crime zones safer. The regions in which the precincts conducted the searches were mostly in the crime highlights regions of Brooklyn mostly East New York, Starret City, Brownsville, and Ocean Hill. According to Bloomberg administration, the regions in which the stops occur are areas with lots of crime. Critics have again criticized the areas in which the searches occur claiming that the New York Police Department was discriminating in their searches. According to Jeffrey Fagan, crime rate is significant in all regions. Thus, identification of race effects was a trivial influence to the stops carried out.
Even with the great reduction in criminal activities, the poly has suffered great criticism from civil rights groups and various minority groups. These groups have organized several demonstrations protesting against the stop and frisk program. Their main concern is the violation of the basic rights of people. The group has been in the court numerous times seeking address from the judges in an effort to scrap the policy as a whole.
One of the notable protestors of the policy is the incoming mayor Bil De Blasio who is about to be sworn in on January 1. He campaigned on the promise of removing the policy and withdrawing the appeal filed by mayor Bloomberg concerning the ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin. The judge made various alterations to the policy to ensure it addressed some of the raised issues, an event that made civil groups flamboyant making Mayor Bloombergs team invoke an appeal in the High Court.
Reasons against the Program
One of the reasons against stop-and-frisk is that it is illegal and contravenes the rights of people. The law clearly stipulates that the only reason that may warrant a search and seizure is a probable cause. However, the police and administration have amended that law to include reasonable suspicion. According to a case filed under Judge Scheindlin, the court found stop-and-frisk as a violation of the Fourth Amendment that protects the people against unwarranted searches as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment on equal protection clause.
However, the judge did not abolish the practice. The judge has initiated the creation of an outside legal team to keep an eye on the police department. This was in order to ensure that the searches and frisks were done according to the law. This means that stopping people based on mere reasonable suspicion only would be a thing of the past. However, the legal team may only monitor a sizable amount of people. This may not be very effective as the police may continue manufacturing suspicion on people and violating their constitutional rights. The appeal judges removed Judge Scheindlin from the case but retained the judgment.
Secondly, the program was a form of racial profiling. One of the greatest concerns of people was that the police were targeting African-Americans and Hispanics. More than eighty percent of all the stops were either African-Americans or Hispanis. The promise of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment was a violation of the peoples rights. More African-Americans and Hispanic people were subject to stops than white people. This caused a kind of racial profiling to the extent of nicknamed legal racism.
According to statistics released by the New York Liberties Union (NYCLU), in 2011, the police had made stops amounting to 685,724 up from 160,851 in 2003. 53% of those stopped were African Americans; 32% were Latinos while 9% were whites. It was furthermore revealed that 89% of those stopped were innocent citizens who were not blameworthy of whichever felony. Mayor Bloomberg has denied accusations of racial profiling claiming that the police acted according to the information they received from the public. For instance, if an onlooker reported that a crime was committed by a black person, then more black people will be stopped and frisked within the area.
Thirdly, the stop-and-frisk program causes an unnecessary rift between people and the police due to mistrust. The police are supposed to protect all the citizens whether they are guilty or innocent. Mishandling of the citizens by the police leads to mistrust. In this case instead of the citizens feeling they can count on the police for their protection, they fear to be stopped and searched for no probable cause. However, the risk is on the children who will grow up with great distrust of the police force. The distrust may be caused when an innocent person is treated like a criminal. Some people suggest that if the police were more kind and courteous during their stop and search, this would restore their trust on the police force.
Last but not least, the program is a waste of time, money, and resources judging from the results it guarantees. If the program were justified and that it was to be based on reasonable suspicion, then the number of firearms, drugs or weapons would be higher. All the policy does is victimizing people by instilling fear to ensure that they do not commit a crime. The police force is thereby wasting time and resources on the program instead of concentrating on the root issues that ail the city.
Mayor Bloomberg has responded with the plea that the program has reduced crime and saved life, and thus it is justifiable to continue the use of the program. However, according to the statistics, is it justifiable to infringe on peoples rights as an alternative measure in curbing crime? That still remains a troubling question in the minds of many. Therefore, the city should find other measures to fight crime other than through the use of stop-and-frisk.
The influx in the number of stop, question, and frisk experienced during 2011 and 2012 is most likely due to the policy of rating the police by the number of stops they administer. The effects of such a move have led to numerous seizures around the city leading to police making stops without any reasonable cause. In the ruling made by Judge Scheindlin, the judge could not stop the stop and frisk program on the grounds of violating the rights of people since that would have meant that the state was responsible for unconstitutional searches.
The decision made supporters of the program make an appeal to the case at a higher court. The court only found fault on the judge for speaking about the case to the media but retained her ruling of streamlining and reforming the program using stringent measures. The case was pushed to January when the appeal hearing will continue. However, the support attorneys have moved to court trying to hasten the case hearing. The reason behind this is due to the incoming mayor who has promised to scrap the program. He has cited that he will drop the appeal case once he is sworn to office in January.
The issue of stop-and-frisks efficiency still remains ambiguous. Fagan, one of the opposition to the program, terms it as ineffective at its best and alienating communities and the police at its worst. Several studies have been carried out to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of the stop-and-frisk program. One of the studies was carried out by NYU's Dennis Smith and SUNY Albany's Robert Purtell which found the program wanting.
The report found that the strategy only had effects on city-wide crimes such as robbery, murder, and vehicle theft but had no effect on assault or rape. The only traceable evidence of the strategy was on the homicide cases which dropped to a low of 414 by 2012. However, there was no evidence of any effect on other crimes. The second research was carried out by Richard Rosenfeld and Robert Fornango.
He rubbished Smith and Purtell s report on the reduced robbery and burglary. It claims that the stops offer few significant effect of stop-and-frisk on the rate of robbery and burglary in the area. The third report was carried out by David Weisburd, Cody Telep, and Brian Lawton. They tried to find the regions the police identify as hotspots and thereby a stop and frisk incident likely to occur. The research proved that the pattern of the stop was consistent with the hot spots identified.
Alternatives to the Program
The New York Police Department should find other mechanisms to protect the citizens other than the stop and frisk strategy. For instance, the force should invest in violence reduction initiatives like safe neighborhoods in Chicago and Longevity Project in New Haven. In fact, the city through the Attorney General Eric Holder has launched smart on crime initiative. With such programs, the police may finally turn from the indiscriminating techniques such as police sweeps and stop, question and frisk. Smart on crime and other projects rely on police intelligence and input by the interested party leaders as well as social workers.
Another mechanism the police could explore is the use of hot spot policing. This occur when the police identify places where crime is likely to occur and thereby trying to come up with mechanisms to prevent the crime from occurring.
In conclusion, it is vividly clear that the reasons against the strategy and policy outweigh the benefits of the program. The main reason of them all is that the Law surpasses any directives and personal interest of the people in office. Protests and demonstrations are likely to prevail unless a viable solution is addressed. The civil rights group is not yet ready to lay down the fight. They have pledged to keep on fighting for their rights despite the judge being benched out of the case.
On the other hand, Bloomberg is also not yet ready to let his administration lose the court case, and attorneys are doing everything they can to ensure the case is heard, and a decision made before Bil De Blasio is sworn into office as the new mayor. Otherwise, his legacy of the stop-and-frisk program will be soon forgotten and shelved in the books of history. In the meantime, the city has two options, both of which rely on the court. It is either the court ruling or the incoming mayor withdrawing the appeal.
However, if the New York Police Department were to follow the clause of reasonable suspicion and probable cause, it would work better with the community without any conflict. This will reassure the public that the police force is again in the domain of protecting them rather than harassing them. The coming generation will once again reinforce their trust on the police. The oncoming Mayor, Bil De Blasio, seems to be at the center stage of the successful withdrawal of the policy. He has pledged and promised to New Yorkers to make reforms by reviewing the stop-and-frisk program as well as change the police administration. The residents of New York City will still be asking whether the change they have been waiting for will become a reality.