Until 2013, when a federal judge decided that New York City’s “stop-and-frisk” policy was unconstitutional, the policy encouraged the city’s police officers to question and pat down anyone who looked “suspicious” – without regard to whether or not officers had reasonable cause to suspect a person of criminal wrongdoing. However, statistics showed that black and Hispanic individuals had been disproportionately targeted by the policy, and in 2013, Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the city’s stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional.

Not everyone in New York welcomed the decision. The editorial board at the New York Daily News vigorously disagreed with Judge Scheindlin’s ruling. In a series of editorial columns, the newspaper’s editorialists claimed that stop-and-frisk was essential to reducing crime in the city, and the editorial writers suggested that the elimination of the policy could cause crime rates to explode once again in the five boroughs. One editorial said, “Make no mistake – Scheindlin has put New York directly in harm’s way with a ruling that threatens to push the city back toward the ravages of lawlessness and bloodshed.”

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Other observers felt that excessive policing was more of a problem than a solution – but not the Daily News. At the time, Mayor Bloomberg agreed. In response to Judge Scheindlin’s decision to end the stop-and-frisk policy, the mayor said, “I worry for my kids and I worry for your kids.” In 2011, New York City police stop-and-frisk incidents numbered approximately 685,700, but after Judge Scheindlin’s ruling, only 22,900 persons were stopped and frisked in 2015. If the mayor and the newspaper had been right, a huge crime wave should have consumed New York City. It didn’t.

WHY DID THE DAILY NEWS REVERSE ITS POSITION?

Thus, after three years, and in a remarkable about-face, on August 8, the Daily News reversed its position on the stop-and-frisk policy. In an editorial titled “We Were Wrong,” the newspaper’s editors admitted that after three years, the city had not experienced the “lawlessness and bloodshed” that they had predicted. “We are delighted to say that we were wrong,” the editors proclaimed. “Not only did crime fail to rise,” said the August 8 editorial, but “New York hit record lows.”

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It was an unprecedented reversal for a major newspaper. Since Judge Scheindlin’s decision in 2013, the New York police for all practical purposes abandoned their stop-and-frisk policy, and the crime rate didn’t skyrocket – in fact, it declined. The Daily News editors honestly admitted that they had been mistaken, saying, “There is no doubt that, heavily grounded in memories of past horrors and too little informed about the potential of smart new strategies, our fears were baseless. We predicted a rising body count from an increase in murders. We are delighted to say that we were wrong.”

Supporters of stop-and-frisk had endorsed the policy because it presumably made New York City safer for everybody, including the minorities that were targeted by the policy. The Daily News now concedes that the current policy of “precision policing,” which focuses specifically on individuals and locations rather race, is as just effective or more effective at keeping the crime rate low than old policy.

DOES STOP-AND-FRISK STILL HAVE SUPPORTERS?

The reversal by the Daily News isn’t the end of the story, however. The old stop-and-frisk policy still has its supporters, and they still have some arguments that they can set forth. Theoretically, it is possible that the stop-and-frisk policy worked to reduce crime, and that ending the policy did not result in a rising crime rate only because other factors were at work to keep the crime rate under control. What those factors might be, however, remains vague.

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Moreover, any remaining support for stop-and-frisk should explain why crime is increasing in other major U.S. cities over the last three years but not in New York. The city’s continually declining crime rate is the singular piece of evidence which most strongly suggests that stop-and-frisk provided little benefit to New York City’s residents and visitors and did little to deter criminal activity.

Eugene O’Donnell is a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He’s also an ex-NYPD officer and a former prosecutor. He says police work should be “community-specific,” because every city and in fact every neighborhood is different, and the solutions to crime in one city or community may not work in others. Over time, as a city and community change, so should its policing. New York City, for example, can still be dangerous, but crime rates in the city remain far below the violent crime peak of the 1970s.

DOES STOP-AND-FRISK HURT THE POLICE TOO?

Moreover, says O’Donnell, the policy tainted the image of the NYPD. Constantly stopping and frisking individuals was hard not only on the innocent people stopped and frisked, but it also took its toll on the cops and the department. “It compromised the professionalism of the job, and it did exacerbate tensions,” O’Donnell said, adding, “I do fear that there’s irreparable damage done to the police profession.”

Today, if you are stopped by the police while walking or driving in New York City, in Westchester County, on Long Island, or anywhere else in our state, be as cooperative and polite as possible. If an officer asks for your name and address, cooperate. If an officer asks for identification, and you have your I.D. with you, show it. However, if a police officer starts asking other questions, simply and politely say, “I’m sorry, officer, but I would prefer to exercise my right to remain silent.” If an officer frisks you, do not physically resist – instead, let an experienced Westchester County criminal defense attorney deal with the matter legally.

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A police officer in New York City or anywhere else should have reasonable cause to believe that you are committing or have committed a crime, or a warrant for your arrest, before frisking you. If there is no warrant and no probable cause, it’s possible that any charge against you could be reduced or possibly even dismissed, but you’ll need to speak with an experienced Westchester County criminal defense attorney and get the legal help you need promptly. Let your attorney know if you suffered discrimination or excessive use of force by the police.

When public figures make public apologies, it’s rare and noteworthy. But when a newspaper as large and vocal as the New York Daily News apologizes, it’s even rarer and even more noteworthy. It’s also a good sign that the people of New York City have something more than good police protection – they’ve got a newspaper they can trust to get it right, even if it takes some time.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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