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Is ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ a Vital Tool for Fighting Crime or an Infringement of Human Rights?

Giacomo Barbaro

Brantly Millegan - published on 08/13/13 - updated on 06/07/17

A federal court recently ruled NYC's 'stop-and-frisk' violates constitutional rights, but NYC mayor Bloomberg says the policy is needed to reduce crime. What do YOU think?

New York City's stop-and-frisk policy was struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional on Monday. The policy encouraged police officers to stop pedestrians either randomly or due to minor suspicions of crime and check them for contraband. Opponents argued that the policy violated the 4th amendment of the US Constitution which secures citizens against "unreasonable search and seizure" as well as that, in practice, police unfairly targeted minorities. 

We asked our Aleteia Experts what they thought of New York City's stop-and-frisk policy and the recent court ruling.

Stop-and-Frisk Reduces Crime and Should Be Continued

"[I] lived through the anarchy that was NYC in the 1980s…the city is now safe," author John Zmirak told Aleteia.

"Women can ride the buses and trains and get money from ATMs–which they couldn't do in the 1980s. Whole neighborhoods–such as Harlem–have gone from 'no-go' zones to thriving zones of commerce and entertainment. Get rid of stop-and-frisk, and here's one NYC taxpayer who might just have to move to the suburbs."

Zmirak thinks personal experience of crime would make the judge who struck down the law think differently. "I would like another, higher level judge, to order the jurist who made this decision to live in a high-crime neighborhood for one year. Watch him turn into a law-and-order vigilante."

He also thinks the courts is the wrong way for those who oppose the policy to remove it. "[I]t's a policy that the people can easily change–by voting in a different mayor, or attending town meetings. Subsidiarity dictates that we should leave this decision not to judges but to local voters."

Stop-and-Frisk Violates Human Dignity and Should be Abandoned

Political science professor Stephen Krason disagrees with Zmirak about the morality of the stop-and-frisk policy. "The traditional rule is that the police are required to have probable cause to detain or search someone; stop and frisk permits a lower standard. When one thinks of this, it is a rule aimed at upholding human dignity: people should be respected by governmental authorities and not be subjected to excessive scrutiny or intimidation by them."

As a result, Krason rejects the stop-and-frisk policy even if it did help reduce crime. "It is not acceptable to defend practices such as stop and frisk on the grounds that they have reduced crime, as the mayor of New York City contends. That 'end justifies the means' standard is open-ended and can be a rationale for unlimited official power."

"Besides, [Bloomberg] really cannot draw a clear cause-and-effect connection between this one police practice and lower crime statistics. Various approaches can be used to control crime; this one thing cannot be held to be necessary."

Krason worries about giving too much power to government offiicials in general. "I am troubled by those who wish to give police authorities a free hand, to let them cut corners. […] We see all too many examples–in such routine matters as traffic law and DUI enforcement, where most citizens have their encounters with the police–where the excessive leeway allowed to the police results in the mistreatment of innocent people."

What do YOU think? Share your opinion in the comments.

The following Aleteia Experts contributed to this article:

Stephen Krason, political science professor at Franciscan University, is a lawyer and the founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He has written numerous books, some academic, some for a larger audience, the most recent being The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic.

John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of The Bad Catholics Guide to the Catechism. He blogs at The Bad Catholics Bingo Hall.

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