Stop and Frisk

Bloomberg and Trump Share a Love of Stop and Frisk

Both New York billionaires overestimate the program's effectiveness and overlook its constitutional defects.


Michael Bloomberg is once again threatening to run for president, this time as a Democrat. In the unlikely event that he seeks and wins the nomination, he will face off against a fellow New York billionaire who enthusiastically agrees with him about one of the most contentious law enforcement issues of the last two decades.

Like Bloomberg, Donald Trump credits the police strategy officially known as "stop, question, and frisk" (SQF) with the historic decline in crime New York has seen since the 1990s. Both men think that success justified the program and recommends it to other cities. They are wrong on both counts.

Bloomberg, who served three consecutive terms as New York's mayor, presided over a sevenfold surge in SQF encounters, which peaked at 686,000 in 2011. Crime rates fell substantially during that period, trends that Trump and Bloomberg attribute to SQF.

"I would do stop and frisk," Trump said during his presidential campaign. "I think you have to. We did it in New York. It worked incredibly well."

In an interview with The New York Times last week, Bloomberg treated the relationship between SQF and reduced crime as self-evident. "I think people, the voters, want low crime," he said. "They don't want kids to kill each other."

On closer inspection, the numbers do not tell the story Trump and Bloomberg think they do. Property and violent crime rates—which peaked in 1988 and 1990, respectively—were already falling before SQF, and there is no clear relationship between the number of stops and the rate of decline.

SQF stops, which were controversial partly because they overwhelmingly targeted blacks and Latinos, fell precipitously after 2011. By the time SQF opponent Bill de Blasio took office as mayor in 2014, the number of stops had fallen by 93 percent, and it fell another 76 percent during his first term, dropping below 11,000 last year.

SQF supporters were sure the program's demise would lead to a surge in crime. "No question about it," Bloomberg's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, said in 2013. "Violent crime will go up."

Rapes and felonious assaults did rise slightly between 2011 and 2017 (by 2 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively). But robberies fell by 29 percent and homicides by 43 percent, reaching their lowest level since World War II. That homicides continued to drop while the number of street stops plummeted belies Bloomberg's claim that SQF was necessary to stops "kids" from killing each other.

Even if SQF were effective, that would not make it constitutional. According to the Supreme Court's understanding of the Fourth Amendment, police may detain a pedestrian only when they reasonably suspect he is involved in criminal activity, and they may pat him down only when they reasonably suspect he is armed.

The NYPD's track record suggests it frequently violated those rules. At the peak of SQF, nine out of 10 stops resulted in no arrest or summons. Most stops included pat-downs, which almost never turned up guns and failed to discover weapons of any kind 98 percent of the time.

It's not hard to see why U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin concluded in 2013 that New York's SQF program violated the Fourth Amendment. Bloomberg himself conceded that point, probably without realizing it.

Defending SQF during a 2012 radio interview, Bloomberg said the aim was not arresting criminals or taking weapons off the street but deterring young men from carrying guns. To his mind, the tiny and declining percentage of stops that yielded guns showed the program was working.

Whatever you may think of that argument, it does not count as a constitutional justification. With the narrow exception of sobriety checkpoints, the Supreme Court has clearly stated that police may not stop people at random in the hope of detecting or deterring crime.

Bloomberg's casual disregard for the Fourth Amendment shows that supposedly sensible centrists are happy to join fearmongering conservatives in sacrificing civil liberties on the altar of public safety.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. I’m personally a fan of *frisk* the *stop* part is what bothers me

  2. A couple of white billionaires indulge a taste for authoritarianism that won’t affect them, and therefore don’t mind police harassment of poor people and minorities.

    One point that makes Bloomberg slightly less objectionable is that he earned, rather than inherited, his privileged life.

    There also may be less evidence that Bloomberg is a bigot.

    Carry on, clingers.

    1. Can you imagine his reaction if he was stopped and frisked on the street?

  3. On policy prescriptions, the default judgement is that Bloomberg is always wrong.

  4. As a libertarian, I’ll vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination in 2020, of course. But I hope it’s not Bloomberg. In addition to being a privileged straight white cis-male, his enthusiasm for stopping and frisking black and brown bodies is highly problematic indeed.

    I appreciate that he devotes some of his billions to funding organizations that advocate common sense gun safety legislation. Nevertheless, the Democrats have plenty of better 2020 choices: Harris, Gillibrand, Warren, Booker, Avenatti, and so on.

    1. “As a libertarian, I’ll vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination in 2020, of course.”

      Of course.That’s what leftists claiming to be libertarians do.

    2. “Avenatti”


      1. OBL forgets his [sarcasm][/sarcasm] tags frequently.

      2. Avenatti would be a ridiculous candidate, one who would appeal to the same level of intellectually downscale, hapless, disaffected voter that a Donald Trump would have attracted.

      3. Maga

  5. If Bloomberg ran successfully to challenge the president, it would be a net positive for the country. Bloomberg can’t win and might cause Trump to reflexively take opposing policy positions.

    1. He might cause Trump to do that, I hadn’t thought about that. OTOH Trump can equally well say, my opponent doesn’t know how to do that right, I do.

  6. Technology will change this debate. I am retired LE and frisked (literally) probably 10-15 thousand individuals. To be actually effective, frisking has to be personally uncomfortable (akin to groping) because many guns are quite small and handy for crotch carry. Holsters are even made for that.

    The better policy is to stop and wand, with the paddle-like magnetic detector they drag out at airports when you set off the walk-through.

    I don’t know why more department don’t routinely use wands anyhow. The frisking most street cops do is so casual they often miss knives and even small guns, which is why jail receiving units have amnesty barrels in which arrestees can deposit their weapons while changing into jail uniforms.

    1. Searching people without probable cause and a warrant is strictly prohibited by the US Constitution…4A.

      1. Except for the exceptions described in Terry v Ohio, specifically, an officer may,for purposes of his own safety and while questioning (key issue here, the questioning) pat down the outer garment to determine if the person they are sis armed. SCOTUS has ruled that this is a de minimus search that is reasonable under these circumstances. SCOTUS did NOT, however, rule on the STOP portion, because in this case, Terry was standing on the corner and the officer went up to him and engaged Terry in conversation. Terry answered (there’s your contract) and did NOT leave the area, but continued to speak with the officer, who then patted him down. Hence, the stop, QUESTION, and frisk. I don’t think I’ve seen any litigation on this topic that involved someone just walking away and not responding to the officer. I tried that once, and was threatened with arrest. I complied and was let go in under a minute.

        Should’ve let him arrest me.

  7. Stop and Frisk. Again. You can find advocacy of stop and frisk in Norval Morris and Gordon J. Hawkins, “The Honest Politician’s Guide to Crime Control”, U Chicago Press, 1970.

    Morris supported stop and frisk on the streets as part of his support for gun prohibition, declaring there can be no right to privacy if the object of a search and seizure is a gun.

    Norvall Morris of the Chicago Law School came to Chicago by way of New Zealand, Australia, and London universities. His sphere of influence included Albert Alschuler, Bernard Harcourt, Frank Zimring, Gordon Hawkins, and Abner Mikva.

    Morris reportedly was turned down for a plum federal government position due to his attitude toward 4A. That was one reason why, years later, I was amazed that NYPD had implemented stop-and-frisk. Searching people with no more probable cause than you can’t have an expectation of privacy if you are on a public street seemed to me to be a pointless way of making the police even more unpopular.

  8. I doubt many liberals read “Reason” , or visit this website, but I think it would shock them to know that the bane of their existence, at least as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, Justice Scalia agreed with them on stop & frisk, as well as many other wrong actions, e.g., Gay rights: “”If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is no legitimate state interest for purposes of proscribing that conduct, and if, as the Court coos (casting aside all pretense of neutrality), when sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring, what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising ‘the liberty protected by the Constitution.’ Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry.”

    1. Kind of off-topic, but those words on gay rights were actually used to argue in defense of statutes prohibiting homosexual intercourse. So not really “agreeing” with liberals. However, he was quite correct to predict that if something’s not harmful enough to outlaw, it’s not a valid excuse to deny a marriage license to.

  9. Michael Bloomberg is once again threatening to run for president, this time as a Democrat

    Bloomberg was always a Democrat and was not fooling anyone when he ran as a RINO.

    1. Everyone (except the cocksucking media) knows that he ran as republican the first time to get around the democrat primary in NYC

  10. If Bloomturd is the dems’ pick for 2020 I will have no choice but to vote for Trump. I really don’t think that will happen, but then again, the dems were pretty stupid with who they picked for 2016

  11. Due process?
    That’s only for the ruling elites.
    Where has Sullum been?

  12. Stop and Frisk is very effective at showing the underclass just how few rights they have.

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  14. I admit that this program shows results but all Americans should be concerned about the loss of freedom. How many of those that support this police state behavior would be extremely angry if it happened to them?

  15. How should the race of the subject affect SQF?
    Should SQF be proportional to the population? In the city? In the state? In the nation?
    Should SQF be proportional to the PRISON population demographics?
    (You might suppose actual criminal convictions should be a consideration.)

  16. The Odious Fiction Destroying America – The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates..
    We now have social transformation without representation. And that is what the Supreme Court is in our day ? despots.
    And they are not the final arbiters ? as Jefferson states, “The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal.”
    They proffer Article 6, paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution ? the ‘supremacy clause’ ? for their notion of judicial supremacy. But when you read Article 6, paragraph 2, you realize that the Supreme Court isn’t even mentioned, nor are federal courts of any kind mentioned. Article 6, paragraph 2 ? known as the supremacy clause actually gives supremacy to the Constitution!
    Wholly opposite of this view of ‘judicial supremacy’ was the view held by America’s founders. They viewed the judiciary as being the weakest branch of the government.
    At the establishment of our constitutions, the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous.”

  17. If you are one that believes the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what is lawful and constitutional, then you have believed a lie and a myth that Jefferson warned about. The States still retain their rights to this day to defy the federal judiciary, which has become an oligarcy. We just need strong statesmen as governors and legislatures to make that stand!

    In writing to William Jarvis, Jefferson said, “You seem . . . to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.”

    The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal Judiciary; an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scare-crow) working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped.”

    Anyone that supports “stop and frisk” laws is NOT a supporter, but rather an ENEMY, of the Constitution. Stop and frisk, without a warrant or probable cause FIRST, IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. I said that even BEFORE the higher courts affirmed it.

    It may seem reasonable and it may even be effective but it IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

    And he did so while enforcing UNCONSTITUTIONAL laws in direct and blatant violation of his Oath of Office.

    “… against all enemies, foreign AND DOMESTIC.” [emphasis mine].

    I really don’t care if a USURPER claims to be a D or an R or anything else. I don’t listen to their words. I watch their ACTIONS to determine if they’re a domestic enemy of the Constitution.

  19. Thanks for sharing the article in great detail.

  20. Take 2 Viagra and DEMAND a frisking! Only then will the police abandon SQF.

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