A Note on Stop and Frisk
Last Wednesday night NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was interviewed by NY1 where he gave a seemingly reasonable response to rising criticism of the department’s “stop and frisk” policy, suggesting that elected officials should be talking more about the crime problem and less about the police who are trying to prevent crime. But there is one outstanding flaw in the Commissioner’s argument: the assumption that crime can and should be condemned in the same way that unpopular police tactics are condemned. It’s apples and oranges.
We have a criminal justice system, and employing it is the means by which we condemn crime. Every time a person is arrested, tried and incarcerated our society is addressing and deterring criminal behavior. Our elected officials discuss it every time they make certain activities punishable by law. If we feel that our local governments are not doing enough to address the problem, then we elect different officials who will.
The police department is a another story. It is a powerful government body whose officers are allowed to carry guns and use force. We do not elect police officers, there is no term limit for Commissioner Kelly, and we cannot impeach him. What we can do is talk about NYPD policies that we don’t Like, especially when those policies may be violating our Constitutional rights.
In this light, the Commissioner’s rhetoric is much harder to swallow. There is an entire system of physical and legal force directed at crime in NYC. In contrast, the best way to confront unpopular (and possibly unconstitutional) police tactics, is with the democratic traditions of free speech, free press and community deliberation.