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Re-breaking the Windows

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Photo by William Avery Hudson

Mayor de Blasio’s decision to settle the NYPD lawsuit threatens the city’s triumph over crime.

Heather Mac Donald writes:  Bill de Blasio won the mayoralty of New York by running a demagogic campaign against the New York Police Department. He has now compounded the injury by dropping the city’s appeal of an equally deceitful court opinion that found that the department’s stop, question, and frisk practices deliberately violated the rights of blacks and Hispanics. De Blasio may thus have paved the way for a return to the days of sky-high crime rates.

[Heather Mac Donald‘s bookAre Cops Racist?: How the War Against the Police Harms Black Americans” is available at Amazon]

Judge Shira Scheindlin’s ruling against the NYPD last August was built on willful ignorance of crime’s racial reality. Scheindlin invented a new concept, “indirect racial profiling,” in order to convict the department of unconstitutional policing, despite lacking the evidence to do so. The Second Circuit Court of Appealschallenged Scheindlin’s appearance of impartiality last October when it found that she had steered stop, question, and frisk cases to her courtroom. The Second Circuit panel removed her from the case and stayed her opinion while the city pursued its appeal. Now, however, thanks to de Blasio, Scheindlin’s tendentious ruling will stay on the books (unless the NYPD’s police unions succeed in their own appeal), setting back the cause of public safety not just in New York, but across the country.

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Stop-and-Frisk and American Freedom

Recognizing “furtive movements” is part of basic self-preservation.

Clark Whelton

U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin’s recent decision in Floyd v. City of New York found that the NYPD’s proactive policing strategy—usually known as “stop and question” or “stop and frisk”—violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and is unfair to minorities. Judge Scheindlin sought to remedy these alleged failings by imposing new restrictions on police operations and by calling for better-trained police officers.

Pages 11 and 12 of Judge Scheindlin’s opinion cite a “particularly telling” example of “poor training.” During the trial, two police officers struggled to describe the “furtive movements” that may prompt the NYPD to stop and frisk certain individuals. Among the officers’ descriptions: “Changing direction,” “acting a little suspicious,” “making a movement that is not regular,” being “very fidgety,” “going in and out of his pocket,” “going in and out of a location,” “looking back and forth,” and “getting a little nervous, maybe shaking,” and “stuttering.” Scheindlin’s decision belittles these attempts: “If officers believe that the behavior described above constitutes furtive movement that justifies a stop, then it is no surprise that stops so rarely produce evidence of criminal activity.”

This is not a minor point of jurisprudence. The theory of proactive policing depends on law-enforcement officers being able to detect and interpret “furtive movements.” And yet Scheindlin and everyone else in the courtroom must have been aware that the officers had been asked to do the impossible. Accurately describing furtive movements and behaviors that may or may not indicate criminal intent is like explaining how you know someone is singing or playing off-key. Scheindlin might even have felt sympathy for the officers’ predicament, or perhaps even embarrassment, since she herself (along with everyone else who lives in New York) is perfectly capable of recognizing furtive movements and their potential link with danger.

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Safe Streets, Overruled

A judge’s appalling decision will endanger New York’s most vulnerable residents.

Heather Mac Donald

New York’s 20-year reprieve from debilitating violence may well be over. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlinruled that the New York Police Department has been willfully targeting blacks and Hispanics for unlawful stop, question, and frisks based on their skin color alone, in violation of the Constitution. She appointed a federal monitor to oversee the department and to develop new policies to end its allegedly biased policing practices. If the monitor adopts Judge Scheindlin’s definition of unconstitutional policing, it’s not too soon for New Yorkers to start looking into relocation plans.

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How to Increase the Crime Rate Nationwide

A ruling against the NYPD’s successful ‘stop, question and frisk’ policy would be sure to inspire lawsuits in other cities.

By HEATHER MAC DONALD
 
A racial-profiling lawsuit over the New York Police Department’s “stop, question and frisk” policies is now in the hands of a judge whose decision is expected within weeks. Many New Yorkers watched the two-and-a-half-month trial nervously, concerned that a ruling against the NYPD by U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin could spell an end to a police practice that helped the city achieve an astonishing drop in violent crime.
 
But non-New Yorkers would do well to worry about the case too. A decision against the NYPD would almost certainly inspire similar suits by social-justice organizations against police departments elsewhere. The national trend of declining crime could hang in the balance. And the primary victims of such a reversal would be the inner-city minorities whose safety seems not to figure into attempts to undermine successful police tactics
 
New York-style policing—including the practice of stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking individuals engaged in suspicious behavior—ought be the city’s most valued export. Since the early 1990s, New York has experienced the longest and steepest crime drop in the modern history of policing. Murders have gone down by nearly 80%, and combined major felonies by nearly 75%. No other American metropolis comes close to New York’s achievement. Bostonians are twice as likely to be murdered as New Yorkers, and residents of Washington, D.C., three times as likely.

imageAssociated Press

The Rev. Al Sharpton, center, leading a protest against New York police policies in 2012.

The biggest beneficiaries of a dramatically safer New York have been law-abiding residents of formerly crime-plagued areas. Minorities make up nearly 80% of the drop in homicide victims since the early 1990s. New York policing has transformed inner-city neighborhoods and allowed their hardworking members a once-unthinkable freedom from fear.

But the city’s policing, whose key elements include the rigorous analysis of crime data and commander accountability for public safety, also has been dogged by misconceptions, including the notion that New York policing is racist.

That perception is what drove the just-completed litigation. The suit, Floyd v. New York, specifically targeted stop, question and frisk (critics chronically leave out the “question” part, even though only about half of stops go beyond questioning to actually entail a frisk). This practice, sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968, is at the revolutionary core of New York policing, which aims to stop crime before it happens, rather than simply react to crime after the fact by making an arrest. If a neighborhood has been plagued by purse-snatchings, for example, and an officer sees someone walking closely behind an elderly lady while looking furtively over his shoulder, the cop might stop him and ask a few questions. The stop may avert a theft without resulting in an arrest.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and lawyers from the elite law firm of Covington & Burling, however, charge in Floyd that such proactive tactics are discriminatory, since blacks and Hispanics make up the large majority of individuals stopped and questioned by NYPD cops. The claim ignores the reality that the preponderance of crime perpetrators, and victims, in New York are also minorities. Blacks, for example, constituted 78% of shooting suspects and 74% of all shooting victims in 2012, even though they are less than 23% of the city’s population.

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