With three of four intended voters telling pollsters that crime is the issue driving tomorrow’s mayoral primary election in Philadelphia, no proposal has drawn more heat from opposing candidates and the public than Michael Nutter’s support for the police tactic he calls “stop, question and frisk,” says the Philadelphia Inquirer. One expert says such policies may help get guns off the street – but carry a risk of civil-rights violations. “The empirical evidence from New York City is that stop-and-frisk as a policy for getting guns off the street helped. I think that’s fair to say. The fact is that more surveillance in society tends to be effective,” said University of Chicago law Prof. Bernard Harcourt.
“We will protect people’s civil rights, but no one has a right to carry an illegal weapon,” Nutter says. “People are desperately crying out for something to be done now. People have a right to be safe and not to be shot.” Despite some wishes by people in dangerous neighborhoods, stop-and-frisk does not give police carte blanche to roust and pat down anyone and everyone. On the street, the line between a permitted frisk and an illegal one can be blurry. Using stop-and-frisk to crack down on illegal guns in a high-crime neighborhood in the 1990s, an elite squad of Kansas City, Mo., officers increased gun seizures by 65 percent. Gun crimes, including killings and aggravated assaults, dropped 49 percent, says University of Pennsylvania criminologist Lawrence Sherman, who helped create the program. Nutter often cites Sherman’s work to support his proposal. Similar programs in Los Angeles, New York, and Minneapolis also have succeeded in dialing down homicide rates.