Stop-and-frisk policies are damaging and need retooling, a panel of criminal defense lawyers and legal scholars agreed Friday at an event aimed at shedding light on racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.
"Police interaction with citizens is the front end" of what people see of the criminal justice system, said Darius Charney, senior staff attorney in the racial justice/government misconduct docket at the Center for Constitutional Rights, speaking during a panel discussion sponsored by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and other groups at New York University-Washington, D.C.
Charney pointed to a footnote in the landmark 1968 Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, which held that police in some circumstances can stop and search a suspect without violating the Fourth Amendment. The footnote stated that actively pursuing such a policy “cannot help but be a severely exacerbating factor in police-community tensions” - a foreshadowing, he said, to what’s happening now in New York City with its stop-and-frisk policy.
Officials such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg argue that stop-and-frisk is an effective crime deterrent. Charney, however, said that officials have no empirical data to back these claims up, and that the policy is being used in a racially discriminatory manner.
“What a lot of people in society say is police have to do what the statistics tell them they should be doing … but that kind of thinking flatly violates the Terry case and the Fourth Amendment, which requires reasonable suspicion,” he said.
The panelists pointed out Terry v. Ohio was meant for preventing potential violent crimes and not to be used in nonviolent cases. Charney also suggested that officials start using data in a more qualitative way to evaluate the effectiveness of these procedures.
David Harris, distinguished faculty scholar and law professor at University of Pittsburg School of Law, said other cities should look at the results of New York’s policy and come up with more appropriate ways to use stop-and-frisk. “In the most basic way stop and frisks are legal, and sometimes an efficacious tool,” he said. “But you can take this and turn it into some sort of monster.”
-- By Alex Zank