The Norman Transcript

Columns

August 20, 2013

Frisking the Constitution

(Continued)

NORMAN —

The judge did not ban the “stop and frisk” practice outright. Rather she appointed an independent monitor to develop guidelines, training protocols and to review stop-and-frisk incidents. What constitutes a legal stop? The judge wrote:

“In order to conduct a stop, an officer must have individualized, reasonable suspicion that the person stopped has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime. The officer must be able to articulate facts establishing a minimal level of objective justification for making the stop, which means more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch.”

Mere “furtive movements” will no longer be good enough, nor the mere fact that someone is in a “high crime area” or matches “a vague or generalized description.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg reacted with indignation and vowed to appeal. The mayor noted that reviews had found most stops were conducted legally and said that Judge Scheindlin had made New York a more dangerous place. He credited the stop-and-frisk policy with helping reduce homicides by 80 percent since 1990; stop and frisk rules were in effect about half of that time.

In 8,000 of the 4.4 million stop and frisk incidents, about two-tenths of 1 percent of the time, police recovered weapons.

Judge Schindlein acknowledged that stop and frisk might well be effective. Even so, she wrote, “Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime — preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example — but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective.”

It’s too bad that Mr. Bloomberg would have to be lectured on this point. The nation has been through its torture debates and is currently wrestling with the issues of drone aircraft and National Security Agency surveillance. In these, as in stop and frisk, the question is the same: How far do we bend the Constitution in the name of security?

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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