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The Last Days of Stop and Frisk

Nov 18, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 10 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Here’s our travel advisory for New York City: It’s always a great time to go, given the restaurants and the museums and the other sites and attractions. But starting January 1, the city may not be as safe.



Yes, we said “safe,” meaning physically secure. So by all means go to New York City, but if you want to hedge your bets, go between now and January 1.

Why then, you ask? And what’s this concern about safety? Well, there is a story here: 

For more than two decades now New York City has experienced substantial declines in murder and other major crimes, becoming the nation’s safest big city. The New York Police Department attributes that development in part to its use of a crime-prevention strategy known as “stop-question-and-frisk.” Thus, officers stop and question a person based on reasonable suspicion and sometimes pat down the clothing of the individual to ensure that he isn’t armed.

City liberals, of whom there are a few, have never much liked stop-and-frisk. They have fought back through the courts, recently winning a pair of cases handled by the federal district judge, Shira Scheindlin, who declared unconstitutional the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices and ordered a set of remedies that would make the policy acceptable by, well, emasculating it.

The city appealed Judge Scheindlin’s decisions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, asking for a stay of her rulings. Late last month, the three-judge panel surprised just about everyone by removing Judge Scheindlin from any further involvement in the cases on account of actions and statements of hers that violated the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. 

The estimable law blogger Ed Whelan has well summarized her infractions: “Scheindlin advised plaintiff’s lawyers how to get stop-and-frisk cases in her court, and her public statements strongly indicate that she aggressively employed the related-case rule in order to keep such cases from going to other judges who might not rule as she would like.” 

It’s rare that a judge is yanked from a case by the court above, and The Scrapbook pauses here to confess its satisfaction that this judge, a partial judge indeed, got what she deserved. As you might have expected, she is fighting back with the help of big-name liberal attorneys in the city, trying to bring about an appeal of her removal to the Second Circuit. That may not be possible, though her fate is a story worth following.

Of relevance to our travel advisory is the other of the Second Circuit’s two orders, for indeed the panel did block implementation of Judge Scheindlin’s rulings, pending appeal, the oral argument in which it scheduled for March 2014. As a result, the NYPD may use stop-and-frisk as it did before the judge’s decisions (or in any way it deems best). And it may do so for as long as city officials wish, which is at least until January 1, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the policy’s most steadfast defender, steps down, and the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, is sworn in. 

De Blasio campaigned against the police department’s stop-and-frisk policy, supports Scheindlin’s decisions, and opposes the city’s appeal (“deeply misguided,” he said) and the Second Circuit’s order (“extremely disappointing”). His background is hard left, and it’s difficult to imagine that as mayor he would reverse course on stop-and-frisk and stay with the appeal. Indeed, he has promised to drop the appeal on his first day in office, January 1. He appears likely—maybe even that same day—to begin implementing most of the remedies Scheindlin ordered.

In policing and other areas, New York City under de Blasio is heading in new directions. But for the next few weeks the NYPD will have available to it the same stop-and-frisk policy it has developed over the years, one that has helped make the city, and its visitors, safer than not. Remember it well, for someday there could be demand for its return to the precincts of Gotham.

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