A few weeks ago I spoke at Riverside Church about a police policy that is driving a wedge between communities of color and law enforcement. All New Yorkers want to get guns off our streets, but the dramatic expansion of our police department’s “stop and frisk” policies has failed to achieve this goal. I am calling on City Hall and One Police Plaza to re-examine this policy and change it.
Last year police conducted more than 600,000 stops of New Yorkers, but no guns were found 99.8 percent of the time. Only 7 percent of these encounters resulted in arrests. Not only is stop and frisk as currently practiced ineffective in getting guns off our streets, it also disproportionately targets black and Hispanic New Yorkers, who make up 85 percent of all those stopped. This year the number of stops is on target to hit 700,000.
Sadly, more than 45 years after Martin Luther King spoke eloquently about “the fierce urgency of now,” we remain separate and unequal on the streets of New York. If you are an 18-year-old black or Latino male, the chances you have been stopped by police are over 80 percent—and probably not just once. Stop and frisk has become a grim rite of passage for too many young people, and today black and Latino parents have completely different conversations with their children than other families in the city. Some parents teach their children early that if they are in trouble, they should find a police officer. But for too many black and Latino parents the conversation is different. It is about explaining to their child how they may be presumed guilty, even if they are not, and about how to keep a bad situation from getting worse.
The best back-up we can give our police officers is the trust of communities they are sworn to protect, but this program is mainly producing some 50,000 low-level marijuana arrests every year—nearly one in seven arrests in the City—and costing taxpayers more than $75 million a year in police and court costs. These arrests saddle our young people with minor records that become major problems when it comes to obtaining or keeping a job, getting a Pell grant to continue their education, or serving in our armed forces. Here’s what I am proposing we do:
1. Test the “Call In” strategy now being employed in 70 cities, including Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. By joining together the police and district attorneys with social services that offer jobs and other paths off the streets, this approach slashed homicide rates in Chicago by 37 percent, and cut youth homicides in Boston by 63 percent in just two years.
2. Train officers to make street stops that are more constitutional and less confrontational. We start by re-drafting the training manual to identify clear behavioral triggers for when a stop is justified, and hold police commanders accountable for ensuring that stops are executed in a constitutionally allowable manner.
3. Finally, we should pass legislation by Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries requiring police to ticket those with small amounts of marijuana, rather than arresting them and sending them through the jail and court systems. At the end of the day, this is about using police resources more effectively and restoring trust to our criminal justice system. It is about being tougher and smarter on crime. The moment we do that, New York City will be a better, safer place for all of us.