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How to Return New York City to the Street Gangs

If one actually wanted to undo the Big Apple's success in reducing crime, how would they go about it?  Heather MacDonald writes in the City Journal:

New York's previously unimaginable status as America's safest big city is now in jeopardy thanks to a rising campaign against its proactive style of policing. In 1994 the New York Police Department, led then by Commissioner William Bratton, embraced the revolutionary concept that the police could actually prevent crime, not just respond to it after the fact.

The department began analyzing victim reports daily to target resources to where crime patterns were emerging. Top brass held commanders accountable for the safety of their precincts. And officers were expected to intervene when they observed someone acting suspiciously--maybe asking the person a few questions, perhaps frisking him if legally justified. In so doing, they sent the message in violence-plagued areas that law and order was still in effect.

Such proactive stops (or "stop-and-frisks") have averted countless crimes. But a chorus of critics, led by the New York Times, charges that the NYPD's policy is racist because the majority of those stopped are black and Hispanic. Every declared Democratic candidate for mayor in 2013 has vowed to eliminate stop-and-frisks or significantly reduce them. A federal judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD has already announced her conviction that the department's stop practices are unconstitutional, the prelude to putting the department under judicial control.

Back in the days when we were allowed to instruct juries with presumptions, we told them that people are presumed to intend the natural consequences of their voluntary acts.  Do the ACLU and left-wing politicians actually intend to increase crime?  That is certainly the consequence of the policies they promote.


We could reduce crime down to ZERO if mandatory strip searches were performed on everyone at all times.

Civil libertarians are arguing that the price we are paying in reduced freedom and privacy isn't worth the reduction in crime.

If you feel differently, that is certainly your right, but remember Ben Franklin's quote about those that are willing to trade their liberty for security deserve neither.

I find it amusing when people drag out that old quote blissfully unaware that they are committing the fallacy of assuming the conclusion.

Franklin was not advocating anarchy. He was well aware that government does need reasonable powers to provide security, which is an essential function of government. His point was that we should not go so far as to forfeit the essential liberties that make a free people.

But nobody is talking about anything like that in New York. The Fourth Amendment does not forbid all searches, only unreasonable ones. The standard for "stop and frisk" was established nearly half a century ago in an opinion by Earl Warren. And MacDonald demonstrates the race-baiting argument to be bogus.

What we have here is an effective crime-fighting program with only weak arguments against it.

The problem, I think, is that it's one thing to allow police officers to make ad hoc decisions when they suspect that criminal activity is afoot, quite another to have department-wide policies. I am not necessarily opposed to NYC's stop and frisk policies, but there is a lot of opportunity for abuse, and in other areas, NYPD has had its share of black eyes. The NYPD has had its share of issues (reports of widespread drug-planting, for example). Additionally, when something is a policy, then the individual cop on the beat is going to get department backing where there are questionable stops.

I grew up in NYC, and I attended Jamaica High School. I remember the violence-ridden days of the Dinkins administration. NYC led the way in reducing urban crime and making cities livable.

I wonder if NYPD is as committed to the civil liberties necessary in a free society as it should be.

What Franklin actually said was, "They that can give up essential liberty, to obtain a little temporary security. . . ."

Notice the three differences that always get ignored when the Franklin line is trotted out.

1. Essential liberty.

2. A little security.

3. Temporary security.

The freedom I most favor is the freedom from fear of the kind of people the police are paid to lock up. The kind of people who'll be a lot busier when we handcuff the police like the snivel libertarians want us to do.

"The freedom I most favor is the freedom from fear of the kind of people the police are paid to lock up."

Perhaps, but government overreach can be pretty oppressive to particular individuals. And the societal response to those people, often enough, is too bad.

Like I said, I don't not [the double negative is intentional] support a stop and frisk policy, but I am not foolish enough to believe that there aren't a non-trivial amount of times where it is abused. And it's not just New York City cops that can do this--what about places like Indianapolis? How much should citizens trust Indianapolis cops given some of the truly out of hand behavior that has happened? I hope I am not a "sniveling libertarian" for simply asking that question. I like to think my law and order bona fides is beyond reproach, and I strive to give the police the benefit of the doubt, but I can recognize that police power can lead to some pretty nasty abuses, e.g., getting arrested for tape recording cops even in the face of clear statutory language. In some clear cases of serious abuses, police brass in major cities has covered for some awful abuses. How can they then be trusted in making a policy that will necessarily bring large numbers of innocent people in contact with the police, and a frisk, at the end of the day, can be very intrusive.

These are real issues, and I think we law and order types ignore them at our peril. Criminals, particularly violent ones, deserve harsh punishments. Respect of the general public for law enforcement is a sine qua non for the viability of a tough criminal justice system. Not only that, when we close our eyes to serious abuses of power by the police, we do real violence to our system of liberty. I, for one, don't think that ordinary, law-abiding citizens should be abused by government officials, and I am outraged when that happens (and I am not talking about honest mistakes). I'll give a f'rinstance--a few years ago, during a breach of the peace in College Station, Maryland, some police officers simply assaulted a young man for no reason--then, to make matters worse, they charged the young man with assault. But for video camera, this young man would have been convicted etc. Does ANYONE think that had that evidence not existed the young man wouldn't have been convicted and had his life seriously harmed? No one in the police department would have listened, nor would the prosecutors. Am I a "sniveling libertarian" for believing that this is an outrage or believing that real and innocent people aren't screwed sometimes because a cop abuses his power?

I don't know what the answers are, but there are issues here, and they cannot simply be dismissed.

The notion that police officers who are evil enough to charge an innocent person with a crime literally for no reason will be deterred from such conduct by changing the stop-and-frisk policy is simply nonsensical, rather like the idea that imposing the requirement of Miranda warnings would somehow deter police officers from employing third-degree tactics.

Even if I'm somehow wrong about that, what I favor is the policy that's going to result in fewer lives being ruined. When people die at the hands of fellow citizens because the police have been subjected to Politically Correct consciousness-raising, it's mindless consolation to say that at least no one's rights were harmed by a government actor. There is not a close question here. The police, almost all of whom are orders of magnitude better than the people they have to deal with, should get the benefit of the doubt.

I'd go further and say that the police, as a whole, are a lot more deserving of the citizenry's trust than are, as a whole, the people who complain about how the police treat them. That's not a group made up mostly of heroes.

How much should people trust the police in light of the abuses you mention? That's like asking how much Jews should trust Christians, in light of a history that I don't think I need to mention. The latter, no one would dare ask in public; what you ask is even less sensible, because you can't point to nearly as much evidence in support of your question.

"The notion that police officers who are evil enough to charge an innocent person with a crime literally for no reason will be deterred from such conduct by changing the stop-and-frisk policy is simply nonsensical, rather like the idea that imposing the requirement of Miranda warnings would somehow deter police officers from employing third-degree tactics."

My point is not that. My point is that the police will often protect their own to the detriment of law-abiding citizens caught up in a mistake. There are cultural issues in many police departments, and you don't need to be an ACLU guy to understand that. And when you have aggressive policies (rather than an aggregation of ad hoc decisions), you are likely to have more abuses as envelopes will get pushed.

As for the groups of people who complain about cops--well, so what? My issue is not criminals who whine, but law-abiding people caught up in a maw. In Chicago, the police, supported by the prosecutors, thought a 15 year prison sentence for recording police officers in the line of duty was somehow appropriate. There is something seriously wrong there, and it's not just some "evil police officer."

My point never was to abolish stop and frisk policies, but rather to point out that aggressive policies create dangers for civil liberties. Your answer to that kid in College Park would have been too bad kid. That's fine, but don't wonder why respect for police dwindles after a situation like that. The moral authority of a police department is a precious resource. Squandering it is bad for public safety.

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