The New York Police Department is under siege from the New York City Council, which is seeking to limit the NYPD’s ability to randomly stop a disproportionate number of minority youth in random searches. According to the head of the NYPD, however, such an action would be tantamount to letting the terrorists win.
Currently, the Council has two measures before it to limit the NYPD’s ability to halt random civilians for searches on the streets of New York under its so-called “stop-and-frisk” program. The first would create an Inspector-General for the police department to handle internal complaints and oversight; the second would allow people to file claims against the NYPD in state court in instances of alleged racial profiling. On Monday, the Council took the unprecedented step of voting to bypass the Committee on Public Safety, whose chairman Peter Vallone Jr. opposed the measures, setting the proposals up for a floor vote in the coming days.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is firmly against any attempt to limit the ability of the NYPD to randomly search through the pockets of New Yorkers. In the past, Bloomberg has called the program a defense against potential terrorism, invoking 9/11 and the Boston bombing. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly took that line of thinking a step further on Monday, claiming that terrorists would be pleased by the City Council’s actions. Any infringement on stop-and-frisk, according to Kelly, would possibly endanger intelligence operations conducted with foreign governments. “Take heart, al Qaeda wannabes, because the City Council has found a way to undermine our partners,” Kelly said.
Despite Kelly and Bloomberg’s claims, the efficacy of stop-and-frisk in stopping terrorism is highly suspect. Instead, more often the procedure is used to lead to marijuana arrests than anything else. And despite the lofty goals the two profess for the program, the truth is much more grounded in continual harassment of minorities. In a recent court case against the practice, evidence was presented from more than 100 witnesses suggesting the New York Police Department sets quotas on the number of stop-and-frisks, instructs officers to target black men, and taunts young teens during stops.
The NYPD’s actual counterterrorism programs have not been a model for success either. In 2012, the Associated Press broke the story of the department targeting Muslims and using informants to entice them to commit crimes in the name of combating terrorism. Under its “Demographics Unit,” the NYPD illegally spied on a wide-range of Muslims within the city including at least one student group, resulting in a lawsuit filed against them in court.