That the proportion of stops generally reflects our crime numbers does not mean, as the judge wrongly concluded, that the police are engaged in racial profiling; it means they are stopping people in those communities who fit descriptions of suspects or are engaged in suspicious activity.
As a black Brooklyn detective with nearly 20 years on the job recently told the Daily News, “Stop-and-frisk is never about race. It’s about behavior.” If an officer sees someone acting in a manner that suggests a crime is afoot, he or she has an obligation to stop and question that person. That’s Policing 101, and it’s practiced all over the country. The difference is that in New York — unlike in many other cities — police officers are required to fill out a form every time they make a stop, identifying why the stop was made and the race of the person.
Of the 24 million interactions that New York police officers have with the public each year, about 500,000 — or 2 percent — involve a stop. The average officer on patrol makes about one stop every two weeks, hardly an excessive number.
Amazingly, out of several million stops that have happened over the past decade, the advocates who brought the case could identify only 19 stops that they believe were unjustified — and the judge disagreed with them on a majority of even those handpicked cases, finding that 10 of the 19 stops were in fact justified, even though they did not lead to an arrest. By doing so, the judge acknowledged that stops that do not end in arrest are often legitimate; those scoping out a robbery, or lying in wait of a potential victim, can be stopped and deterred even if they cannot be arrested.
Nevertheless, the judge used a questionable analysis of police officers’ paperwork, which found that only 6 percent of stops were unjustified, as a basis for imposing a court-appointed monitor to oversee the NYPD’s practice of stop-question-frisk, as well as to mandate specific programmatic changes to policing, even though she has no experience in policing.
Her decision was hardly a surprise. Even before the case began, as media have reported, the judge offered strategic advice to the plaintiffs about how to file the lawsuit in a way that would ensure she heard it, rather than another judge. Blind justice gave way to brazen activism.
Every American has a right to walk down the street without being targeted by the police because of his or her race or ethnicity. At the same time, every American has a right to walk down the street without getting mugged or killed. Both are civil liberties — and we in New York are fully committed to protecting both equally, even when others are not.