When Policing Becomes Harassment

Jacob Sullum's excellent piece on the New York Police Department's unconscionable and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program ("When Policing Becomes Harassment," July) highlighted the astounding level of abuse in the program as well as the equally astounding insouciance by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg toward the program's human costs.

Reason TV could retire its "Nanny of the Month" award, since Bloomberg has no reasonable challengers-or at least you could change the name to "Bloomberg of the Month." But not content to be just our mommy, Bloomberg also apparently relishes the role of daddy, the hard disciplinarian who "knows best" about our safety.

When Bloomberg and his law-and-order supporters claim the program is reducing crime, they're engaging in a rank speculation that should make any criminologist shake his head. Nationwide, the crime rate has been dropping precipitously for reasons that criminologists are still struggling to identify.

Yet even if the program has reduced crime, we still must consider the costs. The Fourth Amendment, after all, can be a wrench in the gears of effective crime fighting. If crime reduction were the only goal, then everyone should be stopped and frisked, suspicion be damned.

The Fourth Amendment delineates a relationship between citizens and government that is integral to the post-Enlightenment, classical liberal vision of the State. We are not their subjects. They are ours.

Trevor Burrus

Research Fellow, Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute

Washington, DC

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