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Just do it right


Last week we looked at New York’s Stop and Frisk law, which has become exceedingly controversial since District Judge Shira Scheindlin made her decision last Monday. It was always a source of worry, especially for minorities, because of the humiliation and ignominy they have been randomly subjected to. The ruling that the judge made is now historic, but it appears to have incensed the Mayor of New York, who made some stinging remarks.{{more}}

The Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, appears to miss the point. No one is impeaching police for work in general. There has been criticism of the Stop and Frisk method, as carried out by the NYPD. They have a duty to prevent criminal activities and keep communities safe. In SVG, certain powers are given to the police to prevent crime. They must confine themselves to the law that is given under Section 30 of the Criminal Procedure Act. More specifically, they must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is committed or is about to be committed or they must have a warrant to arrest.

What Judge Scheindlin’s rulings show is that there have been violations of the rights of minorities. The constitutional rights of individuals have been abused with the random arrest of Blacks and Hispanics on the streets of New York. The statistics show that the majority of minorities arrested did not carry guns and had to be released without charges. Moreover, more whites that were arrested had guns than the other minorities.

There must be something wrong with their methods if so many innocent persons from minority groups are drawn in. According to the judge, in their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully overlooked that discrimination was racially oriented. This behaviour suggests that there is need for better policing techniques to find the criminals. There may be the need for better training. There is no need to throw out such a wide net. An aggressive method of this nature would bring in many innocent persons who would not take kindly to the gruelling experience associated with an arrest. For the police to succeed in communities, they must earn trust of citizens and pulling them over without reasonable suspicion could be damaging. The judge, in her ruling, condemned the process, claiming that “the NYPD’s practice of making stops that lacked individualized reasonable suspicion has been pervasive and persistent as to become not only a part of the NYPD’s standard operating procedure, but a fact of daily life in some New York City neighbourhoods.” Her recommendations for body cameras should go a far way in helping the NYPD to reform.

Stop and Frisk requires at least four levels of approach by the police. At the first level of encounter, the police who have no suspicion, could ask a person on the street his name and residence. At the second level, the officer could ask pointed questions about criminal activity. At the next level, they could detain, question and frisk and at the last level could arrest.

According to the Huffington Post, “stop and frisk has been around for decades in some form but recorded stops increased dramatically under the Bloomberg administration to an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330, mostly of Blacks and Hispanic men. About half of the people who were stopped were stopped for questioning but many have had their bag or backpack searched and sometimes police conduct a full pat down. Only 10 per cent of all stops result in arrest and a weapon is recovered a small fraction of the time.”

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

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