Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Does Philly's Stop-and-Frisk Policy Actually Fight Crime?

Elmer Smith at the Daily News gets to the heart of the matter:

"The city keeps records on the number of people who are stopped in what it calls pedestrian investigations. But nobody at the Police Department could tell me how many of those stops included pat-downs or how many, if any, gun or drug confiscations to credit to the practice."

There are a couple of reasons you might not keep records on how much crime a crime-fighting practice actually fights. One is that you don't want to know the results. The other is that you're too lazy to care. Which is why Mayor Nutter's defense of the program seems suspect:

"This is part of a larger crime-fighting strategy. We've put more officers on the street; we have taken away about 4,000 to 5,000 guns every year for the last three years. Homicides and [serious] crimes are down."

But, what, if anything, does stop-and-frisk have to do with that? If the practice is not being monitored, how can we be sure how fair or effective it has been?

Philly is now defending a lawsuit from the ACLU because the practice disparately targets minorities. The city might be in a better position to defend itself if it could demonstrate the practice mitigates crime -- that is, after all, the best defense available for constitutionally suspect practices. But City Hall can't make that demonstration; why should we believe it's worth the cost?

UPDATE: It's stop-and-frisk day! The Daily News editorial is here; the Inky editorial is here.

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