Pubdate: Sun, 01 Sep 2013
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2013 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Dan Rodricks


If New York City Ruling Is Overturned, Should Baltimore Police Stop and Frisk?

Two weeks after a federal judge declared New York City's 
stop-and-frisk policing unconstitutional is an odd time to ask the 
question, but here goes: Would New York-style stop-and-frisk policing 
reduce Baltimore homicides to such a low level that Mayor Stephanie 
Rawlings-Blake's goal of growing the city by 10,000 families would 
start to look plausible, even overly modest?

More directly: Would a general stop-and-frisk order have saved 
Delmonte Thomas' life? As of Friday, he was Baltimore's latest 
homicide victim - not even 20 years old, gunned down in West 
Baltimore a few blocks from Coppin State University, on Westwood 
Avenue, about 10:20 p.m. Thursday. Had Baltimore police been 
conducting stop-and-frisks of young African-American men in the most 
violent sections of this sprawling, under-populated city - East, West 
and Northwest Baltimore - might they have prevented Thomas' death?

Impossible to know, of course. But the police chief and mayor of New 
York City would likely say that if their policy were used here, it 
could have led to the confiscation of the gun used to shoot Thomas - 
maybe even the one used in the slaying in Baltimore County on 
Wednesday morning of Officer Jason Schneider. While there is little 
published research to support their claims, police Chief Ray Kelly 
and Mayor Michael Bloomberg believe their policy has saved thousands 
of lives and contributed mightily to New York City's impressive drop 
in homicides and crime overall.

On Dec. 28, as New York homicides fell to a record low, Bloomberg's 
office pointed out the following in a news release: "If New York City 
had Baltimore's murder rate, New York City would have a total of more 
than 2,870 murders this year." New York City has 13 times as many 
people as Baltimore but only had 414 homicides in 2012. Baltimore had 
217, up from 197 the year before. With Delmonte Thomas' death 
Thursday night, Baltimore had152 homicides so far in 2013. New York had 213.

So, of course, even after the federal judge's rebuke of New York 
City's stop-and-frisk policy, Baltimoreans ask the question: If it 
worked in the Big Apple, why not here?

And if an appellate court overturns the federal judge's ruling, 
should the Baltimore Police Department consider a general 
stop-and-frisk order that goes beyond its current practice?

The current practice here follows the 1968 Supreme Court ruling 
(Terry v. Ohio), which held that police officers can - with 
reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is about to 
be committed, or that a person "may be armed and presently dangerous" 
- - stop and frisk him. That practice does not violate the 
constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure, 
the court said. It's a basic police academy lesson that has been 
around for decades.

In addition, Baltimore police sometimes conduct a "consent search." 
Daniel Webster reminded me of this practice when I contacted him last 
week. He is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and 
Research and a deputy director of the Hopkins Center for the 
Prevention of Youth Violence. He has observed Baltimore police 
practices firsthand.

"I've done ride-alongs with units that will specifically announce to 
those on the street that they are looking for guns and not drugs," 
Webster reports. "They do pat-downs for weapons rather than go 
through pockets looking for marijuana or other drugs. This sends a 
message to the thugs carrying loaded weapons that they'd better not 
be packing, and a message to others that the purpose is to increase 
safety, not to lock up large numbers of young men of color."

For those of us who believe the war on drugs is a failure, and want 
to see gun violence diminished, that's an enticing idea for 
Baltimore: "We want your guns, not your drugs."

In his research among incarcerated juveniles here, Webster found that 
targeted policing for guns makes a difference: Young men avoid 
carrying firearms into the streets if they know special gun units are 
on patrol.

Over the past decade, Baltimore police have deployed special units 
into violent hot spots of the city, "flooding the zone," so to speak. 
"This is a policing strategy that I've evaluated in Baltimore and 
others have studied in other cities," Webster says. "The research has 
shown consistently positive impacts on gun violence - statistically 
significant reductions in shootings."

As much as those practices are employed already, it sounds like they 
could be expanded or re-energized. "Bad guys with guns," the credo of 
former police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld, needs to remain the focus, 
perhaps ratcheted up with targeting of violent offenders on parole or 
probation, and juveniles who've been arrested with guns or who've 
survived shootings.

The Constitution sometimes gets in the way of sweeping police 
practices believed intuitively to be effective.

Baltimore police will need to balance aggressive gun enforcement in 
the shadow of the New York ruling, should it survive appeals.

"There is a difference between very broad-scale stop-and-frisk 
policies used [in New York City] and more targeted efforts by special 
units," Webster says. "While both can reduce shootings, more targeted 
approaches with special units, well-trained and supervised, yield 
fewer complaints of harassment."
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