I am not a law enforcement expert but I can see what's wrong. "Stop and frisk" laws are passed by politicians who represent them as "proactive policing," a dodgy phrase that makes it look like bad guys can be sorted out of the general population and caught before they do something illegal.
A few facts: out of the 4,000,000 (that's four MILLION) stops since 2002 when stop-and-frisk laws took effect in New York City, 90% were doing nothing illegal nor carrying any contraband of any kind.
While we're on the subject of percentages, the ratio of female-to-male stops is about 1 in 10. With the ratio of white vs. other skin color stops also being about 1 in 10, if you're a white woman in NYC you stand a fair chance of never being stopped. So if you're a white female criminal mastermind, head to NYC immediately, it is your playground.
A little quick math tells us that 10% of four million is 400,000 bad guys hauled off the streets. How bad are they? Let's take a quick peek at why some of these folks got stopped and how I, an ostensibly normal and generally law-abiding white man, compare:
My random sample is the 005 Precinct, 3rd quarter of 2011. Here's a few gems:
- "Wearing clothes commonly used in a crime" - 7 males. I tend to wear pants to all functions, criminal or otherwise. Hoodies and hats keep my bald head warm, and gloves keep my bald hands warm.
- "Proximity to scene of offense" - 138 males, 11 females. Wrong place at the wrong time. Move along, folks. That's like searching my car because the guy in the next lane had a trunk full of Mexicans.
While we're on the topic of Mexicans, Latinos are heavily represented in the stop-frisk-search profile, too, 20-30% of the total as opposed to the mere 10% of whites.
- "Evasive response to questioning" - 109 males, 6 females. 'Where you headed with that big knapsack?' 'None of your effing business.' That is a valid response and believe it or not it is defensible. You'd have a lousy, hard day in court defending it and maybe no love from the judge in New York, but in most other parts of the country it's solid.
- "Suspicious bulge" - 7 males. I saw a video where a cop was searching a man for reasons unknown, grabbing something and saying, "What the hell is that?" And the suspect, bless him, said, "That's my penis." Can't fault the guy for that, mine goes with me wherever I go, too.
What I'm really looking for is something to quantify the badness of these 400,000 bad guys. First of all in this 10-year period we're looking at, you know a fair portion of that is going to be repeats. Even so, digging through the NYCLU's website I'm finding some other bits: frisked young black and Latino men are less likely to be found with a weapon than white men, even though young black and Latino men get frisked about four times more often. Another report indicates that as the stop and frisk rate drops, so too does the crime rate. You can look at that two ways: either fewer people are doing bad things or the fewer stop-frisks are instigating fewer criminal reactions to the stop-frisks themselves.
A complete stranger stopping you on your way from A to B would be, at best, irritating. That same stranger grabbing you and pawing at your clothing would likely get a faceful of knuckles on most American streets. The protection afforded the police by the stop-question-frisk law means they get to physically assault "suspects," AKA random American citizens, for no more reason than the individual watched the cops driving by, and didn't look away.
As I recall, William Tell refused to be cowed by a display of oppressive force, and the bad guy in that story wound up with Tell's arrow in his eye. Never mind that he was the ostensible governmental representation, like a cop - he was a jerk and had it coming.
My ultimate point is that while the stop-question-frisk procedure may have some legitimacy as a crimefighting practice, it is woefully subject to abuse by its practitioners. Allegations of racial profiling - and the NYPD's own statistics read like a racial profiling manual - are rife. Allegations of abuse like the one cited in the first hotlink are also plentiful. What it is is the very worst elements of a police state with insufficient oversight and restraint.
Vote now, vote loudly, vote often. Don't let your freedoms be curtailed by a desire for "security," a security that is, itself, cause for fear.