Monday, September 04, 2017

He Supports Stop And Frisk. He Just Doesn't Know It.

In a vaguely interesting piece, Vox's German Lopez, a man of the left, has inadvertently made a strong case for a policy he does not mention and surely would oppose.  On his way to recommending eight reforms to improve policing in the USA (#3 being insightful), Lopez argues

statistics show police are arguably failing to protect residents in black communities: While black people made up about 13 percent of the population in 2015, they made up more than half of reported murder victims.

Thomas Abt, a criminologist at Harvard University, put it in stark terms: “In addition to all of these burdens that we’re placing on African-American communities in terms of aggressive policing, we’re fundamentally failing them at keeping them safe.”

Police are arguably failing to protect residents in black communities, Lopez maintains, quoting the criminologist contending "we're fundamentally failing them (African-American communities) at keeping them safe."  To the contrary, the primary responsibility for preventing crime lies with the offenders themselves.

Still, I'll play along, especially because Lopez notes "police can also take steps that explicitly go after crime while limiting who's impacted by policing actions." Additionally, he notes

The vast majority of crime in communities is perpetrated by just a few people in a few specific parts of the city. As Abt, the Harvard criminologist, recently wrote for Vox, “In most cities across the nation, 3 to 5 percent of city blocks account for 50 to 75 percent of all shootings and killings, with 1 percent of a city’s population responsible for 50 to 60 percent of all homicides.”

If police focus on just these few blocks — through policing strategies known as “hot-spot policing” and “focused deterrence” — they can stop and deter a lot of crimes in their cities.

Lopez calls it "hot-spot policing" and focused deterrence." I call it "stop and frisk."

Police are failing to protect African-American communities, Lopez understands, and partly as a result violent crime in most cities is focused on a limited geographical area committed by a small number of individuals.  That is a powerful rationale for adoption of a stop and frisk program.

The effective strategy would not emphasize arrest of drug offenders and would specifically exclude arrests for marijuana possession, for which there is a very weak linkage to violent crime. Police (and court) resources are much better utilized in arresting individuals illegally possessing a firearm, which would be the focus of the stop and frisk process.

Additionally, there would have to be a strong correlation between the racial/ethnic composition of a neighborhood and police stops, such that the program would be constitutionally applied and maintain reasonably strong police-community relations.

Alternatively, stop and frisk may be avoided. We may wish, in fact, to turn a blind eye to the preponderance of crime in specific neighborhoods or in specific blocks of a neighborhood and pretend that all individuals in an area pose a similar risk of breaking the law.  But if we are to hold police as responsible for crime prevention as German Lopez wishes, a constitutionally valid stop-and-frisk tactic targeting illegal drug possession would be an effective response.

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