Heather Mac Donald on “Stop and Frisk”

 

I’ve just now finished listening to the latest “Need to Know” podcast, in which Jay and Mona interviewed my friend Heather Mac Donald. Heather’s has been an invaluable voice of reason in what she has termed a “war on the police,” a war whose latest battle has been fought over the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy. Despite its manifest success in reducing crime by historic levels in New York City, most significantly in those minority neighborhoods that were once the most besieged by violent crime, the NYPD stands accused of racism in its application of stop-and-frisk. (You can read some of her City Journal pieces on the subject here, here, and here.)

Nearly alone among academics, Heather has pointed out what should be perfectly obvious to anyone who has not attended graduate school: that effective policing, independent of so-called “root causes,” can reduce crime and thereby enhance livability in once-troubled cities. End stop-and-frisk, she says, and prepare to see the murder rate in New York climb once again.

I can offer some proof for this assertion from my own experience with the Los Angeles Police Department. In Los Angeles, murders reached their peak in 1992, when LAPD homicide detectives investigated 1,092 cases. The number fell steadily in the years that followed, reaching 420 in 1999. But in 2000 the total was 544. Murders increased to 591 in 2001 and to 647 in 2002. What had happened?

It’s simple. Responding to the Rampart scandal (discussed at NRO here and here, among others), in which a handful of officers at a single police station committed all manner of misdeeds, then-LAPD Chief Bernard Parks disbanded the LAPD’s anti-gang units and imposed a draconian discipline system on the department, with the predictable result that police officers were disincentivized from finding and arresting those people most inclined toward violent crime. Thus freed from fear of the consequences, these people resumed the predatory habits they had for years been suppressing. The cost was the hundreds of lives that would have been spared had homicide trends merely continued on their downward path. Only when Parks was let go and replaced with William Bratton did the number of murders in the city begin to decline once again.

A similar fate awaits New York City if the anti-police mob is allowed to prevail.

There are 65 comments.

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  1. Inactive

    I would be all for Stop-and-Frisk if only the police officers themselves didn’t take quite so many liberties. When the police start following the law like everyone else is expected to, and treating law-abiding people with respect, then and only then will I support surrendering more of my freedoms to them. Right now, I don’t trust them.

    I’d add that, in fairness, I have met one or two policemen that were actually pretty reasonable and understanding (actually, precisely two, and both were new to the job.) They are a few good apples in what I perceive to be a crate of bad ones, at least around here.

    • #1
    • July 27, 2013 at 8:39 am
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  2. Inactive

    The libertarian side of me recoils at the idea of stop-and-frisk, but an 80% drop in the murder rate? That is hard to ignore.

    • #2
    • July 27, 2013 at 9:01 am
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  3. Moderator

    It doesn’t speak well of the residents of New York City that the only way to keep them from killing each other is to have police frisking folks whose looks they don’t like. Sounds a little like living in a prison.

    • #3
    • July 27, 2013 at 10:02 am
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  4. Contributor

    It’s not possible to have an honest conversation about the relative merits of stop, question, and frisk absent an understanding of what New York City was like before. Randy, it was like living in a prison — a prison of fear. If stop, question, and frisk goes, as the New York City council and most of the Democratic candidates for mayor would have it, so will all the gains against crime that have been made in the Big Apple since the early 1990s. 

    It’s not a choice between civil liberties and privacy. It’s a choice between order and chaos.

    • #4
    • July 27, 2013 at 10:33 am
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  5. Member

    Talking to people is one thing. Frisking them is another. Reasonable suspicion should be required in either case. Unexpected delays can result in a wide variety of problems for law-abiding citizens. Obviously, the standard should be higher for frisking.

    Is the “Stop and Frisk” moniker in exaggeration of what typically occurs? 

    • #5
    • July 27, 2013 at 10:37 am
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  6. Member
    Matthew Hennessey: It’s not a choice between civil liberties and privacy. It’s a choice between order and chaos. · 0 minutes ago

    As Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “self-government doesn’t work without self-control”. So an area with less self-control can expect either more crime, or a government response as is seen in NYC.

    • #6
    • July 27, 2013 at 10:40 am
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  7. Member

    No system can eliminate the need for individual human judgment. Police officers should have leeway to assess situations without need of rulebooks.

    But in a city where politicians try to outlaw large sodas, even citizens not in the thrall of race baiters might be understably wary of official inspections of any kind.

    • #7
    • July 27, 2013 at 10:43 am
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  8. Contributor
    Aaron Miller: But in a city where politicians try to outlaw large sodas, even citizens not in the thrall of race baiters might be understably wary of official inspections of any kind. · 2 minutes ago

    But these are the kind of silly ditherings that politicians can only engage in when the city is safe and open for business. I can assure you no mayor would have tried such a thing in the early 70s.

    • #8
    • July 27, 2013 at 10:48 am
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  9. Inactive

    I rather side with Aaron Miller.

    We have civil liberties. These are not part time liberties, nor do they apply only in certain locals or to certain persons (?has anyone stopped and frisked the mayor).

    Crime and associated murders are a function of a dysfunctional society. The more dysfunctional it is, the worse the situation gets. One has to have a proper social fabric to expect police to actually function as they ought. But who would trust the police today when we see that they are more and more militarized, more willing to overreach, more likely to use excessive force (no-knock raids, SWAT) over relatively trivial things.

    Look at Watertown, MA with the Tsarnev “search”. We had police armed to the teeth, with full battle rattle,ordering, ORDERING citizens out of their homes -with their hands up! All over a punk 19 y/o who set off a bomb. The 20’s were full of anarchists who set off bombs, and no one did what happened in Watertown.

    Cops have a difficult time. Their biggest task is to earn respect, but it won’t come from me so long as they abuse me of my God-given rights.

    • #9
    • July 28, 2013 at 2:22 am
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  10. Inactive
    Aaron Miller

    As a Southerner with no practical experience in New York, I’ll trust your judgment on the rampant disorder of the city’s past.

    But, while I agree that values must be prioritized differently amid chaos and violence, our fundamental values should not be set aside entirely during such times. This conversation echoes the NSA debate. Many people talk as if security needn’t be balanced with other values.

    The good character and judgment of individual police officers is crucial, but insufficient to maintain the general public’s trust. Official powers must always be limited to one degree or another. · 2 hours ago

    Look at it this way Aaron. Which is a greater threat to your civil liberties:

    A police officer who has the authority to question and search you on the street with little probable cause?

    Or a street thug who will take your property and may or may not kill you depending on his whim?

    • #10
    • July 28, 2013 at 3:04 am
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  11. Inactive

    My understanding is that the police in NYC don’t frisk without some level of reasonable suspicion based on the answers they get from the people they stop and question.

    I am willing to be stopped and questioned every day in my neighborhood, and occasionally frisked, if it will keep the killers, rapists, and armed robbers at bay.

    • #11
    • July 28, 2013 at 3:23 am
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  12. Member

    Billy, I don’t have to choose between them. And that’s the point: I shouldn’t have to.

    Besides, I can resist the thug by force, if need be. Officials cannot be resisted even in the slightest. Criminals are the greater threat, but we needn’t be at the mercy of police to keep hooligans in check.

    Impromptu questioning is acceptable when not indiscriminate. Frisking is acceptable when not indiscriminate and justified by reasonable suspicions. Failure to reasonably discriminate is what bothers me (if that is indeed happening in New York or anywhere else).

    • #12
    • July 28, 2013 at 4:13 am
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  13. Contributor

    This is an academic debate. No one can argue that New York was better before. New York is full of political characters who see inflaming racial animus against the police as a direct route to personal advantage. 

    Howellis is correct — stop, question, and frisk is much more scientific than its critics would have you believe. Of course we don’t want the cops running wild and depriving us of our liberties. That’s not happening in New York. On the contrary, people who used to live in abject terror have regained the freedom to simply move about their neighborhoods.

    From a recent WSJ op-ed by Ms. Mac Donald:

    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.

    • #13
    • July 28, 2013 at 4:27 am
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  14. Inactive
    Aaron Miller: Billy, I don’t have to choose between them. And that’s the point: I shouldn’t have to.

    Besides, I can resist the thug by force, if need be. Officials cannot be resisted even in the slightest. Criminals are the greater threat, but we needn’t be at the mercy of police to keep hooligans in check.

    As I said earlier in this post, I am not entirely comfortable with this policy but having visited NYC pre-Guiliani, S&F has had a huge impact. NYC was a very menacing place, and I was living on Chicago’s south side at the time.

    It wouldn’t be necessary here in the Tulsa suburbs where we have sensible gun laws, but given the typical New Yorker’s hysteria over firearms, it is either give the police more leeway, or surrender the streets to crime.

    I guess it demonstrates a basic libertarian truth: Surrender one right (to bear arms) and you have to surrender another (freedom from unreasonable search).

    • #14
    • July 28, 2013 at 4:49 am
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  15. Inactive
    billy I guess it demonstrates a basic libertarian truth: Surrender one right (to bear arms) and you have to surrender another (freedom from unreasonable search). · 19 minutes ago

    You’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head. Heather MacDonald supports gun control. She doesn’t believe in limited government nor in the original understanding of the Constitution.

    Aaron Miller

    I don’t know enough about these stop policies to object.

    These two videos should give you some perspective. It will be a dismal perspective.

    Jack Dunphy: A similar fate awaits New York City if the anti-police mob is allowed to prevail.

    People who disagree with you are an “anti-police mob”? Typical cheap shot.

    • #15
    • July 28, 2013 at 5:25 am
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  16. Inactive

    Billy, you beat me to the punch on this one (also echoed by Jeff). New Yorkers have already given up (had taken away) their basic right to self-defense with the aggregation of a hideous set of anti-gun laws. It has then been left up to the Gov’t to step in as the grand protectors. Of course, the Gov’t is just fine with that. AND, when the big issues such as the Bill of Rights get stomped on, a bevy of stupid, irritating laws (16 oz, salt, unsaturated fats, etc.) follow.

    billy

    but given the typical New Yorker’s hysteria over firearms, it is either give the police more leeway, or surrender the streets to crime.

    I guess it demonstrates a basic libertarian truth: Surrender one right (to bear arms) and you have to surrender another (freedom from unreasonable search). · 41 minutes ago

    • #16
    • July 28, 2013 at 5:42 am
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  17. Inactive

    Howellis – the key to your comment is illegally armed. In NYC no one but the cops is legally armed. That means the populace that is armed, whether with good or bad intentions, is illegally armed. Indeed, there is a large body of cases of the NYPD arresting travelers who happen to get stranded in one of their airports through no fault of their own, and when attempting to continue their travels declare their weapon at the airline and get arrested. They end up in jail, then the county DA does a “deal” wherein they pay a hefty fee (Hundred of $) and lose their firearm. This is what a police state looks like.

    So you ought to compare your statistics of homicide in the city to those of Moscow in the USSR; this circumstances are much more aligned.

    Meanwhile in Houston, which is a LARGE city (and growing), the homicide rate is SUBSTANTIALLY LESS than in NYC – period.

    The point, of course, is that free people, allowed to be armed, give you all the benefits of low homicide rates and no trampling of rights.

    • #17
    • July 28, 2013 at 6:57 am
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  18. Inactive

    I’m very much a believer in gun rights, but it’s naive to think that in a place like New York that just because more of the good guys are armed the bad guys won’t still be able to get away with a lot of crime in the absence of effective policing. 

    Stop and frisk can coexist with gun rights. In order to be stopped and questioned in the first place the officer, who doesn’t have time to stop every pedestrian, will need some kind of generalized suspicion. If the questioning leads to more specific suspicion, he may frisk. If he comes up with a weapon, but the guy has a permit, no problem. If he doesn’t have a permit, the policeman may just have prevented a murder or robbery.

    The most important role of government, even the nightwatchman state, is public safety. This should be accomplished with minimal invasion of rights, but it must be accomplished.

    • #18
    • July 28, 2013 at 6:58 am
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  19. Inactive

    This, of course, doesn’t mean the cops can’t continue to do police work. They do in Houston. But it is real police work, not abuse of citizen rights.

    I have no issues with the NYPD. They have done some really good work. I have no issues with their investigative approaches to mosques. It is only the muslims that are upset that anyone is listening to what all they say. I would contend that all those things are regular police duties. But SAF on the street is not.

    • #19
    • July 28, 2013 at 7:03 am
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  20. Inactive

    Silly New Yorkers should make their concealed carry laws more like Ohio’s or better yet Alaska’s. If you are legally able to own a gun, you can carry one. Works or not, being frisked without warrant is anathema to me.

    • #20
    • July 28, 2013 at 7:14 am
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  21. Inactive

    Actually I think (will accept correction from Constitutional scholars – no, that does not include BHO), the founders placed a whole host of things higher up the list – freedom of religion, freedom to bear arms, freedom from unlawful search & seizure, protection of private property. The state enforces the general boundaries – contracts, incursions against individuals freedoms (whether from other individuals or the state). The community cannot in and of itself be coerced into a civil community without either responsibility from the many individual souls in a community or a lock-down state. And, lock down states end up being pretty scary places for the weak and defenseless. Prisons (or gulags) are outwardly a totally controlled state institution, but on the inside it can and often is anarchy and rule of the jungle.

    Howellis:

    The most important role of government, even the nightwatchman state, is public safety. This should be accomplished with minimal invasion of rights, but it must be accomplished. · 40 minutes ago

    • #21
    • July 28, 2013 at 7:48 am
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  22. Inactive
    Howellis: Stop and frisk can coexist with gun rights. In order to be stopped and questioned in the first place the officer, who doesn’t have time to stop every pedestrian, will need some kind of generalized suspicion.

    Your description accurately describes how police officers actually use stop-and-frisk, but you are wrong to write “the officer […] will need some kind of generalized suspicion”.

    The officer is required to have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a crime is being committed. That is a much higher standard than a “generalized suspicion”.

    You accurately descried what police officers actually do, which is violate the rights of law abiding citizens. It is a statistical fact that the “suspicions” of New York police officers doing stop-and-frisk are wrong 99.9% of the time. I submit that is unreasonable on its face.

    • #22
    • July 28, 2013 at 7:59 am
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  23. Inactive
    Jeff

    It is a statistical fact that the “suspicions” of New York police officers doing stop-and-frisk are wrong 99.9% of the time. I submit that is unreasonable on its face. 

    We can count the number of people frisked who don’t have guns on them. You claim 99.9%, though according to NYPD and ACLU stats 12% of those frisked are charged with a crime.

    More to the point, we cannot count the number of people who didn’t carry a gun only because they were afraid they might be frisked. In a world of no frisking, the risk of carrying a gun is slight. In a world of routine frisking, the risk of being caught with an illegal weapon is great.

    I submit the best estimate of the number of persons who are dissuaded from going illegally armed is reflected in the decline in the number of murders in NYC, from 960 in 2001 before stop and frisk, to an annualized rate in 2013 of 312 (156 in the first 6 months of the year). That is a drop of more than 2/3.

    • #23
    • July 28, 2013 at 8:54 am
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  24. Member
    Matthew Hennessey: ….

    It’s not a choice between civil liberties and privacy. It’s a choice between order and chaos.

    As a Southerner with no practical experience in New York, I’ll trust your judgment on the rampant disorder of the city’s past.

    But, while I agree that values must be prioritized differently amid chaos and violence, our fundamental values should not be set aside entirely during such times. This conversation echoes the NSA debate. Many people talk as if security needn’t be balanced with other values.

    I don’t know enough about these stop policies to object. Profiling certainly makes sense in many situations. I only caution my fellow conservatives not to preach the need for security and stop at that. Our respect for civil liberties must be clear even as our priorities change to match the circumstances.

    The good character and judgment of individual police officers is crucial, but insufficient to maintain the general public’s trust. Official powers must always be limited to one degree or another.

    • #24
    • July 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm
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  25. Inactive
    Howellis

    […] You claim 99.9%, though according to NYPD and ACLU stats 12% of those frisked are charged with a crime.

    […] we cannot count the number of people whodidn’t carry a gunonly because they were afraid they might be frisked. […]

    […] best estimate of the number of persons who are dissuaded from going illegally armed is reflected in the decline in the number of murders in NYC […]

    You speak of guns in the first part and then all crimes in the second part. Most people who are charged with a crime are charged with petty crimes like loitering. Guns are found in less than 0.2% of stops. But let’s accept your crime claim, 12% of people are charged with a crime.

    That means 88% of stops reveal no crime. When suspicion is wrong 88% of the time, it’s unreasonable on its face.

    Notice also how you play fast and loose with dates. 2001 crime stats vs 2013 stats. The fall in murder rates happened before the explosion in stop and frisk. SAF hasn’t reduced the numbers of people shot. 1,892 in 2002 and 1,821 in 2011.

    • #25
    • July 29, 2013 at 2:35 am
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  26. Inactive
    Jeff

    That means 88% of stops reveal no crime. When suspicion is wrong 88% of the time, it’s unreasonable on its face.

    Notice also how you play fast and loose with dates. 2001 crime stats vs 2013 stats. The fall in murder rates happened before the explosion in stop and frisk. SAF hasn’t reduced the numbers of people shot. 1,892 in 2002 and 1,821 in 2011. 

    I chose 2001 because it is the last year before Stop and Frisk became widespread. See ACLU stats.

    You are correct that murder rates declined substantially before S&F, but then they plateaued from 1998 to 2003, and only started plummeting again after S&F was implemented.

    All other violent crime in NYC is down since then as well (20% or so). I can only assume that if you are correct about the number of shootings staying the same while the murder rate plummets it must mean that New Yorkers are much poorer shots then they used to be.

    I can’t prove that S&F caused the decline, but I predict that with a Democrat mayor and S&F repealed the murder rate will rise.

    • #26
    • July 29, 2013 at 4:01 am
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  27. Inactive

    Howellis – with a democrat mayor the crime rate, murder and all, will rise no matter what you do. Democrats are not pro-growth, and only economic possibility will improve the lot of much of the black community in NYC. Detroit shows just what democrat administrations do – best. Republican ones are sadly only a ways behind generally, and certainly in blue states.

    • #27
    • July 29, 2013 at 4:49 am
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  28. Inactive
    Devereaux: 

    Meanwhile in Houston, which is a LARGE city (and growing), the homicide rate is SUBSTANTIALLY LESS than in NYC – period.

    The point, of course, is that free people, allowed to be armed, give you all the benefits of low homicide rates and no trampling of rights. 

    I read the statistics about NYC and Houston a bit differently. Murders per 100,000 of population:

    Screen-shot-2013-07-28-at-8.18.42-PM.png

    Here are the sources: NYC, Houston.

    By the way, I don’t disagree with your comment in #27.

    • #28
    • July 29, 2013 at 5:23 am
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  29. Contributor

    There are multiple issues being addressed here, and the answers needn’t line up:

    1. Does the Stop, Question, and Frisk policy work? All the evidence I’ve seen indicates that it has worked, and worked very well at that. As Dunphy and MacDonald say, there are a lot of folks — most of them minorities — who can credit their lives to this policy and to the COMSTAT system that was implemented concordantly. That’s nothing to scoff at.
    2. Is it Constitutional? Probably not, strictly speaking. I have a hard time believing that the authors of the 4th Amendment would countenance peace officers regularly stoping and mildly harassing citizens on a daily basis.
    3. Are there any better ways to get similar results? Like other Ricoteers, I suspect that New York State and NYC’s draconian restrictions on firearms are at least partly to blame for the city’s past and present problems.
    • #29
    • July 29, 2013 at 6:42 am
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  30. Contributor

    4. What is the end game for this policy? As a temporary abridgment of one right in exchange for others, I can see the justification for SQ&F. In a way, it reminds me of the Civil Rights Act, which justified the abridgment of freedom of association in order to overcome the greater abridgments of liberty. As much as I dislike it (especially as a libertarian), there’s no question that that policy worked and that it was likely necessary: the Jim Crow South was such an unjust society that the constitution could not work in it; likewise, pre-Guilani NYC may well have been too lawless tow work.

    But just as the North Carolina of 1968 is a far cry from that of 2012, the NYC of today is vastly different than the one of a generation ago. Perhaps more time is needed, but at some point in the near future, the lawfulness the policy has brought should allow for greater freedoms and responsibilities in those neighborhoods.

    Given that we all agree that fatherlessness is at the core of the problem, shouldn’t, say, a steady decrease in legitimacy bring about a wind-down of Stop & Fisk?

    • #30
    • July 29, 2013 at 6:46 am
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