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by Peter Moskos

June 27, 2010

Heather MacDonald on NYPD Stop-and-Frisks

Heather MacDonald has an op-ed in the New York Times. You know, on police issues we probably agree 75-80% of the time. And yet I'm always left frustrated and strangely disappointed by her writings. She's too predictable. And her writing lacks depth as she simply sidesteps the main points of the opposition.

I generally agree with her, and yet still find myself unconvinced.

When it comes to police matters, I also want to learn something I didn't already know or think about something in a way I haven't considered. No such luck.


Anonymous said...


What exactly do you agree and disagree with in this column?

-From Canada

Jay Livingston said...

I don't trust her either, and I've blogged about her stuff a couple of times. The recent op-ed had a passage that caught my attention.

"For several years, the ratio of stops in New York that resulted in an arrest or summons — about 12 percent of the total — was identical for whites, blacks and Hispanics, suggesting that the police use the same measure of reasonable suspicion in stopping members of different racial and ethnic groups.

The verb tense and introductory phrase suggest that the ratio is no longer identical. But she didn't bother to say what it is now. I'm too lazy to look up the data, but I'd bet that if the ratio were now tilted so that whites had a lower "hit" rate, she would have mentioned it. My guess is that in recent years, more stops of blacks and Hispanics (relative to stops of whites) do not lead to summons or arrest.

The next sentence is this:
"Just because a stop does not result in an arrest or summons does not mean that it did not interrupt a crime."

Maybe the stop did interrupt a crime, maybe it didn't. She's implying that a lot of the 88% of stops that don't lead to arrest or summons stopped a crime. But she offers no evidence and no estimate of how many.

Then there's this:

"No public policy change of the last quarter-century has done as much for the city’s poor and minority neighborhoods as CompStat policing. More than 10,000 black and Hispanic males are alive today who would have been killed had homicide rates remained at the levels of the early 1990s."

She also implies that CompStat is responsible for the entire decrease in NYC homicide since 1990. She doesn't come right out and say it as cold fact, but it would be easy to draw that conclusion if you weren't paying very close attention.

PCM said...

I wrote this post on stop and frisks last year. I made many of the same points MacDonald makes. But I understand the other side and know I don't have all the answers. (Is this the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives?)

What makes MacDonald so predictable is that she never finds fault in anything the NYPD does. I don't know anybody in the NYPD that thinks the NYPD is without fault. But you give me a controversial topic about the NYPD and I can pretty much guarantee I know what MacDonald is going to say.

Couldn't MacDonald at least acknowledge the possibility that there might be some bad frisks or rude cops? Doesn't she understand why some citizens might be pissed off? Why not write to them rather than those who already agree with you?

Anyway... I'm sure Ray Kelly loved her piece. And maybe that is all that matters.

PCM said...


I'd believe a cop over what a mom *thinks* her son did any day. Cops may indeed sometimes lie. But moms will never believe the truth about their "baby."

IrishPirate said...

MacDonald is a conservative who is openly an atheist. Nothing wrong with that. Personally, I'm an agnostic cultural Catholic with a bad moon rising. Who am I to criticize her lack of religious belief?

However, methinks she has replaced religious belief with something similar to religious belief. That "something" would be the apparent infallibility she places on the NYPD.

She needs to consider what EJ Dionne wrote upon the death of Patrick Moynihan:

"He was always a liberal, of a sort, who knew that liberalism thrived only when it could question itself. He was also a conservative, of a sort, who thought that public order and family stability were essential to a good society. He believed in government and he was skeptical of government. He believed in the capacity for human improvement and "social learning" and he believed in original sin and the need to grapple with fallen human nature."

One should always be skeptical of everything. Especially our own beliefs.

PCM said...

I like both Moynihan and Dionne. I wish more liberals were like Moynihan and more conservatives like Dionne.

I also agree that the Terry Frisk is an open invitation for police officers to lie. Or at least stretch the truth beyond the constitutional purpose of a Terry Frisk.

The stretch the NYPD has made is to not even pretend that the purpose of the frisk is to protect officer safety in situations they happen to find themselves in in the course of their duty.

The court never intended for the Terry Frisk to be a police initiated tactic to justify a stop. In fact, Justice Douglas, the lone dissenter in the case, very explicitly warned that such a thing would happen.

Winston Smith said...

Search / id laws are getting a lot of attention in Toronto after the
G20 protests and police response.

The cops violated search and id laws in TO before and during the summit, couldn't stop lying about everything, arrested 1,000 mostly peacful protestors, attacked the same while leaving the 150 black bloc anarchists free rein to break windows and torch a few cop cars. But the the suprise of the powers that be middle class white people just won't stand for that shit so there are calls for a public inquiry and the chief to resign. Beating and arresting the media didn't help the cops cause much either.

It's a really facinating case. I highly suggest you check it out.



PCM said...

It is interesting. A lot of that bothers me. But I don't know what Canadian law says. So I don't feel I can say anything too knowledgeable.

Here in America, the press does have some constitutional protection that "normal" citizens don't. And we also have a (restricted) constitutional right to assemble. I don't what the story is in Canada.

And the concept of "kettling" is unsettling and I would hope be unconstitutional in America. You can't just detain a mass of people for hours because you want to and some of them may be intent on harm.

PCM said...

Yeah. I'm sure that's what happened.



Are you friggin' crazy?!

John McAdams said...

I like McDonald a lot. When policing is under attack, it's valuable to have a voice that defends cops. It's a matter of context: if everybody was lauding the cops and ignoring police misconduct, it would be useless and lazy to jump on the bandwagon.

But the situation is that cops are under fire, from the media, from the (now happily gone) Obama Justice Department, and from "civil rights" activists.

Defending cops from the overwrought and bogus attacks it a worthwhile mission. So it pointing out the irony of the race hustlers attacking policing when tough, proactive policing disproportionately *protects* law-abiding people in minority communities.