Normative Narratives


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Economic Outlook: Bill De Blasio, Stop-and-Frisk, and “A Tale of Two Cities”

Large cities present unique security environments, perhaps none more-so than New York City.  It is therefore unsurprising that the future of “stop-and-frisk” was the focus of much debate during the recent NYC mayoral election. In order to give police officers a tool to proactively prevent crime, “stop-and-frisk” was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1968 case of Terry v. Ohio:

The court agreed with the police that officers face uncertain and dangerous situations on the streets—circumstances that can potentially threaten both law enforcement officers and the public. For this reason, police officers need a set of flexible responses that allow them to react based on the information they possess.

Under the Terry ruling, a police officer may stop and detain a person based on reasonable suspicion. And, if the police reasonably suspect the person is armed and dangerous, they may also frisk him or her for weapons.

What exactly is Reasonable Suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion is defined by a set of factual circumstances that would lead a reasonable police officer to believe criminal activity is occurring. This is different from the probable cause (what a reasonable person would believe) required for an arrest, search, and seizure. If the stop and frisk gives rise to probable cause to believe the detainee has committed a crime, then the police officer should have the power to make a formal arrest and conduct a search of the person.

A Justified Stop

A stop is justified if the suspect is exhibiting any combination of the following behaviors:

  1. Appears not to fit the time or place.
  2. Matches the description on a “Wanted” flyer.
  3. Acts strangely, or is emotional, angry, fearful, or intoxicated.
  4. Loitering, or looking for something.
  5. Running away or engaging in furtive movements.
  6. Present in a crime scene area.
  7. Present in a high-crime area (not sufficient by itself or with loitering).

A frisk is justified under the following circumstances:

  1. Concern for the safety of the officer or of others.
  2. Suspicion the suspect is armed and dangerous.
  3. Suspicion the suspect is about to commit a crime where a weapon is commonly used.
  4. Officer is alone and backup has not arrived.
  5. Number of suspects and their physical size.
  6. Behavior, emotional state, and/or look of suspects.
  7. Suspect gave evasive answers during the initial stop.
  8. Time of day and/or geographical surroundings (not sufficient by themselves to justify frisk).        

 

Does the ability to stop and frisk go too far? Many police departments are at odds with the public in certain neighborhoods concerning what some people deem unwarranted stops. People in high crime areas and in areas with high minority populations often complain they are stopped and questioned at a disproportionately higher rate than their counterparts in other areas of the city.

When used correctly, the stop and frisk tool benefits the police and average citizens. Curbing crime and ensuring the safety of our on-the-beat public servants, stop and frisk can help us all sleep a little more soundly – a good step in the all-American pursuit of happiness.

At the center of the NYC stop-and-frisk debate is racial discrimination. It was argued that stop-and-frisk unfairly targets minorities, and therefore must be reformed. With the legal appeals process currently ongoing, it is helpful to have a parallel public debate on the matter. First, some statistics:

In 2012, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 532,911 times:
473,644 were totally innocent (89 percent).
284,229 were black (55 percent).
165,140 were Latino (32 percent).
50,366 were white (10 percent).

Demographics of NYC
White: 33.3%
Black: 22.5%
Latino: 28.6%

Based on these numbers, it would appear that the police are unfairly targeting minorities (at least black people), while letting white people go. However, these are not the correct numbers to compare. Remember stop-and-frisk occurs within the context of a particular crime. Police officers are responding to a specific crime, in a specific area, with a description of a suspect which is almost exclusively on physical attributes (including race). To strip police of the power to pursue suspects based on the best information and their knowledge as law enforcement officials puts everybody at risk (including minorities, which the data shows are disproportionately the victims of minority violence).

There should be safeguards put in place to protect minorities, particularly when there is no specific crime / suspect description a police officer is going on, but is rather “racially profiling” an individual. The program itself, however, should not be outlawed. In fact, the data (p. 21) suggests that, if anything, minorities are under-targeted for stop-and-frisks based on how often the suspect matches their race:

The most frequently occurring race/ethnic group within the Violent Felony suspects is Black, accounting for (65.3%). Hispanic suspects account for an additional (26.6%) while White and Asian/Pacific Islanders account for (6.1%) and (1.9%) respectively. The most frequent race/ethnic group within the Stop Question and Frisk subject population is Black, accounting for (54.2%). Hispanic subjects account for an additional (32.5%) while White and Asian/Pacific Islanders account for (9.6%) and (3.2%) of total Stops respectively.

There will always be anecdotal examples of racist cops racially profiling. For the most part, however, police officers are brave men and women who do their job with the greatest integrity they can. They are simply using the information available and their technical knowledge to make the best decisions they can, just like any other professional does. Considering the balanced racial breakdown of NYC police force, one must wonder how anybody could accuse the force of being “systematically racist” to begin with.

Proper safeguards must be put in place to protect minorities from unwarranted stop-and-frisks, and those who are found guilty of racial profiling must be held accountable. However, police officers should not have to consider the race of a person when assessing whether they are “eligible” for stop-and-frisk–“eligibility” should be based only on information available about the crime in question. Race is simply one of the many pieces of information an officer has when considering whether to stop-and-frisk an individual.

Mr. De Blasio ran for mayor on a ticket of progressive values. Behind these progressive values is the true key to reducing the number of minorities targeted by stop and frisk; by reducing the number of minorities suspected of violent crimes.

Throughout our criminal justice process–from arrest to conviction to incarceration–minorities are disproportionately represented. Is this due to racial undertones? Probably to a certain extent, based on how we categories and punish different offenses. Violent crimes are disproportionately committed by minorities, while “white-collar”crimes often go unpunished and are never the subject of “stop-and-frisk”. But stop-and-frisk is about safety and immediate physical harm, not about longer term financial type crimes. While I certainly believe white-collar criminals should be held accountable, this has nothing to do with the issues of violent crime and stop-and-frisk.

The socioeconomic roots of violent crime are the true culprit behind the apparent “racial profiling” in stop-and-frisk, and therein lie the solutions. When Mayor De Blasio talks about progressive taxation, social programs, equality of opportunity, social mobility, he is talking about creating new opportunities for everyone on the bottom wrung of the socioeconomic ladder (which recent evidence suggests is not as minority-dominated as some might believe). These opportunities, in time, present an alternative to violent crime. Given the option, the overwhelming majority of people of all races would choose a life of rewarding work, comfort, and security over a life of crime (if it was a true possibility and not some unattainable goal).

So mayor De Blasio, while I am eager to see your liberal vision for NYC unfold, and hope it offers a model for the rest of the country, I urge you not to take your racial equality crusade to far. There are deep rooted socioeconomic issues behind the racial breakdown of stop-and-frisk numbers; to gut the program would be a mistake. Instead, allow your vision for NYC to change the statistics “organically”, without putting innocent people and police officers in danger. In the meantime, reforms can make stop-and-frisk a more transparent and accountable process (however this is true of all public programs, they are hardly issue unique to stop-and-frisk).


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Transparency Thursday: Recycling New York City’s Garbage

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Turning waste into energy may seem futuristic, but in this case the future is today. There is currently a high capacity operational waste-to-energy plant in Malaysia.
“K.S. Sivaprasad, an engineer from India, spent four decades perfecting a factory that accepts city trash, dries it, picks out the burnable elements and ignites them to create electricity. His first full-scale plant chews through 700 tons of garbage a day and delivers 5.5 megawatts to the power grid.”

In the U.S., waste-to-energy used to be unregulated and, as you could imagine, quite environmentally harmful. Burning trash, without taking the proper measures, released all sorts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Over time, the process has become more regulated and environmentally friendly:

“Proponents of WTE technology argue that thermal processing is a form of recycling and that new technologies and EPA regulations have eliminated the odor and air pollution many people connect with the process of incinerating trash. Professor Nickolas J. Themelis, director of the Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University, said he thinks that much of the opposition to creating WTE plants in the city stems from people’s memories of the bad old days.

“At one point New York had 30 municipal incinerators and about 15,000 residential incinerators with no regulation at all. It was a mess,” said Themelis. “There is this kind of animus among people who have been exposed to incinerators in the past. They associate them with black smoke and horrific pollution. But the truth is, those are all gone now. The pollution generated by trucking waste to landfills can’t compare to how little a modern WTE facility produces. The people who oppose these technologies are like the Flat Earth Society, they are holding back progress.”

Mayor Bloomberg called for a pilot waste-to-energy program in NYC this past March:

“Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Tuesday that the city was looking for a pilot “state of the art facility” that could handle a maximum of 450 tons of trash a day — out of a total of 10,000 tons currently in need of disposal — with plans to double that capacity if successful. The plant, which must be in New York City or no farther than 80 miles away, would be privately built and operated.”

Mr. Sivaprasad wants to expand his operation, not in NYC, but in India.

“Mr. Saxena’s involvement will help the company apply for a grant from the Trade and Development Agency in the United States for the next project that Mr. Sivaprasad would like to build: a plant that would absorb 1,200 tons of trash a day and produce 10 megawatts of power in the southern Indian cities of Chennai or Bangalore.

“Some improvement is coming in, and with American money I can clinch a project,” he said. “This has taken a very long time.”

If he is applying for American financing, the project should be in America. Seeing as Mayor Bloomberg is a proponent of the project, and Mr. Sivaprasad clearly has the ability to create a high capacity fully functional waste-to-energy plant, a NYC project seems like a natural fit for both parties.

“There are currently 10 WTE facilities statewide licensed by the Department of Environmental Conservation to burn municipal waste and convert it into steam and electricity. One is located in Peekskill, about 50 miles up the Hudson River. The facility is owned by Wheelabrator, a subsidiary of Waste Management, the country’s largest waste processor, which serves more than 20 million residential, commercial and municipal customers nationwide.”

This idea sounds like a great way to deal with New York City’s garbage in a sustainable and profitable way, whats not to like about it? It is literally making money from trash, brilliant!