Stop and Frisk Is a Bad Idea



The proposal to hire William Bratton, the former head of the New York and Los Angeles police departments, as a consultant to OPD has generated a firestorm of controversy in Oakland. Opponents of stop and frisk are worried that city officials will adopt the controversial police tactic at Bratton’s behest and justify their decision by pointing to Bratton’s nationwide reputation for fighting crime. And if the city were to do that — it would be a major mistake.

The simple truth is that stop and frisk results in racial profiling. A study by the ACLU found that, from 2002 to 2011, about 90 percent of the people stopped by New York police officers were black or Latino. And even more troubling was the fact that 88 percent of those people had done nothing wrong and so were not arrested. In other words, stop and frisk is a ham-handed tactic that encourages police to stop and humiliate innocent people because of the color of their skin.

  • Bratton
Last year, The New York Times published an interview with a young black man living in New York who said that police stopped him at least sixty times before he turned eighteen. And each time he was stopped, he was not arrested. He was entirely innocent, but was nonetheless stopped repeatedly because he is black.

Oakland, unfortunately, also has a longstanding problem with racial profiling by its police department. The independent court monitoring team that keeps close tabs on OPD has noted that Oakland police officers disproportionately target young black and Latino men, often pointing their guns at them for no legitimate reason. In fact, the mistreatment of people of color in Oakland has resulted in large swaths of the population wanting to have nothing to do with the city’s police department.

Even OPD Chief Howard Jordan has acknowledged this issue, stating recently that the department needs to rebuild “trust” with the community. Jordan realizes that his department has one of the worst records in law enforcement for solving crimes in part because witnesses refuse to cooperate with police officers because their only experiences with them have been negative.

However, there are a large number of people in Oakland who don’t understand this troubling dynamic — they’ve never been stopped by police because of the color of their skin or had a cop point his gun at them for no good reason. Many of these folks also believe that Oakland’s problem is that it’s not “tough” enough on crime. And they believe that the ends justify the means — that racial profiling, targeting people because of how they look, is an acceptable tactic if it results in less crime in the city.

But there is basic flaw in that argument: There’s no concrete evidence that stop and frisk actually works. Although violent crime dropped in New York by 29 percent from 2001 to 2010 after Mayor Michael Bloomberg ramped up stop and frisk in his city, other large cities that did not rely on stop and frisk experienced even larger drops in violent crime during the same time period, the ACLU has noted. Violent crime declined by 37 percent in Baltimore and 49 percent in Dallas, for example.

As such, Mayor Jean Quan was right to tell the San Francisco Chronicle last week that the city does not intend to implement stop and frisk. Jordan also said in a statement that he opposes “zero tolerance” police tactics.

Bratton, by contrast, has repeatedly reaffirmed his support of stop and frisk in recent weeks. So why hire him? Quan has noted that Bratton brings more to the table than stop and frisk. As we pointed out earlier this month, Bratton is an expert in CompStat, a crime data system, and his team members are big proponents of investigating and solving crimes — two areas in which OPD desperately needs help. Bratton also had success in steering LAPD out of its federal consent decree, and thus could assist OPD in doing the same.

But while I disagree with the tactics used by some protesters to shout down supporters of Bratton last week at a council committee meeting, I share their opposition to stop and frisk. And if Bratton recommends that Oakland adopt the tactic as it’s been used in New York over the past decade, then I think it’s clear that city leaders would be smart to ignore him.

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