Why do New York City police officers need to stop, question and frisk thousands of New Yorkers every year?
This question has been asked by opponents of the police tactic, and the response from NYPD brass and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been: to keep illegal guns off the street. Opponents of stop-and-frisk then point out that only a few hundred gun arrests are made out of the thousands of people stopped and searched on the street by trained officers annually.
What the opponents of stop-and-frisk fail to understand is that the tactic is successful even if one firearm is found—because that firearm could be used by a criminal to commit a robbery, assault or murder. The presence of one gun in the hands of one criminal makes the entire city a more dangerous place because it puts somebody’s life in jeopardy.
The police are the thin blue line between order and chaos, and it is their duty to ensure that one criminal with one gun is stopped before that criminal is allowed to use that gun to commit a crime. On Monday, Aug. 19, the NYPD announced it succeeded in getting 254 handguns, rifles and shotguns—and the 19 individuals accused of importing them into New York City from other parts of the country—off the streets.
The year-long investigation took some steam out of what has been dubbed the “Iron Pipeline,” an underground firearm freeway in which guns purchased from Southern states such as Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina are illegally brought into the city. A report issued by Mayor Bloomberg earlier this month indicated that 90 percent of all guns used to commit crimes here were imported from out of state.
It is so difficult to legally obtain a gun in New York State that criminals have resorted to taking advantage of lax federal gun laws to legally purchase firearms quickly and cheaply in places that religiously embrace guns and the right of all Americans to own them. The buyers then travel north to New York City and sell the guns on the black market to anyone—no questions asked, no backgrounds checked, no permits required.
But one particular statement by a suspect snared in Monday’s gun bust was rather striking. In a recorded phone conversation, Earl Campbell of South Carolina told the undercover NYPD detective posing as a buyer that he didn’t want to bring guns to Brooklyn out of fear of being stopped, questioned and frisked by police—and potentially caught with an illegal gun.
Stop-and-frisk as a deterrent to crime. Did the opponents of the tactic ever think of that? Did it ever cross the mind of federal Judge Shira Scheindlin—who recently appointed a federal monitor to oversee the NYPD for its supposedly unconstitutional stop-and-frisk method—that the tactic itself has forced criminals to think twice?
The opponents of stop-and-frisk have tried to make this debate about race. Except for a few bad officers, the majority of NYPD personnel stop and frisk people based not on race, but rather on their own training to identify suspicious persons or individuals fitting the description of wanted criminals.
Reforms should be made to stop-and-frisk to make sure all officers properly use the method and treat every stopped individual in a dignified manner. But as this gun bust demonstrates, the tactic must remain, as it plays both active and passive roles in keeping guns off the streets and criminals at bay.
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