Stop to think on ‘stop and frisk’ 

Gun violence has increased in San Francisco this year, especially in southeastern neighborhoods, and city officials have taken notice. But their conclusions thus far have brought conflict, rather than a solution to the violence.

On June 19, during Mayor Ed Lee’s monthly question time before the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district includes the Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhoods, asked the mayor about violence prevention funding and services in the southeastern neighborhoods. Her question was in response to shootings that had killed several in the area, especially young black men.

In his answer to Cohen, Lee touted proactive solutions to the violence, including community outreach and employing neighborhood youth through a city employment program. “And as always to properly address public safety,” he said, “our strategy must focus on empowering our communities to find solutions that work for them.”

But about a week later, during an editorial board meeting with The San Francisco Chronicle, Lee proposed a much different solution for the violence in San Francisco — a “stop and frisk” policy similar to that in use in cities such as New York and Philadelphia. The tactic allows police to stop and pat down people on the street who are suspected of carrying weapons.

 “We can’t keep doing the same thing,” mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey subsequently told The San Francisco Examiner. “We need to get better results, and the mayor has clearly stated to the community that he is willing to try something edgy, something controversial. However, he’s not willing to infringe on anyone’s civil rights.”

Falvey said Lee is not proposing a cookie-cutter model based on New York’s policy. That is good for San Francisco, since “stop and frisk” as it was originally instituted does appear to infringe on people’s civil rights, as well as appearing to lead to racial profiling by police officers.

The data out of New York show that there have been nearly 700,000 separate stops under that city’s policy. Nearly 90 percent of those stops resulted in no violation, arrest or citation. More disturbing is that the lion’s share of people stopped were minorities — 53 percent of them black  and 34 percent Hispanic.

The results out of Philadelphia were just as dismal during that city’s early implementation of the policy.

According to The New York Times, there were roughly 136,000 annual pedestrian stops in the city when Michael Nutter ran for mayor on a platform that included a promise to aggressively institute “stop and frisk.” By 2009, with Nutter as mayor, there were more than 685,000 stops a year, a disproportionate number of which included young black or Hispanic men.

The “stop and frisk” policy led to a class-action lawsuit and Philadelphia put numerous safeguards into place, including independent oversight, new training for police officers, and an electronic database that tracks the legality of stops, according to The New York Times.

The implementation of “stop and frisk” in other cities has caused a backlash against Lee’s proposal here. This week, six members of the Board of Supervisors led by Supervisor Cohen introduced a resolution that called for strategies to reduce crime that “do not encourage racial profiling and violate an individual’s constitutional rights.”

Our mayor is right to be concerned about the gun violence plaguing The City. But we must ask if any “stop and frisk” policy is really the way to empower our communities to find solutions that work for them.

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