On August 19, the New York Times published an op-ed piece on the stop and frisk case by John Timoney, former first deputy commissioner of the NYPD and former chief of police in Philadelphia and Miami. Mr. Timoney is a respected figure in American policing; his article, “The Real Costs of Policing the Police,” was a direct shot at Judge Scheindlin’s decision that the NYPD must change how it conducts stops and frisks. I won’t characterize or excerpt Mr. Timoney’s piece; it’s short and speaks for itself. I urge you to go to the link and read it. But it deserves a reply: Mr. Timoney gets important things wrong, and fails to reckon with costs he prefers to ignore.
Judge Sheindlin did not find that “the benefits of ending what she considers to be unconstitutional stops would far outweigh any administrative hardships.” In fact, Sheindlin made sure she stuck to the one job a court has in such a case: assessing whether or not it is constitutional. She explicitly, and properly, declined to weigh the costs and benefits of the program.
Second, Mr. Timoney encourages skepticism of the court’s order to begin pilot programs using body-worn video (BWV), based on the reality show “Cops.” But instead of phony TV, examine the comprehensive field studies of BWV done in Britain. Officers using BWV found it extremely beneficial for recording evidence, creating records, more rapidly resolving cases, reducing public order offenses, and promoting successful prosecution of domestic violence offenses. The cameras also, of course, facilitated greater police accountability in the bargain. (My law review article on BWV in the Texas Tech Law Review can be downloaded here.)
Third, Mr. Timoney says that the problem would solve itself without court intervention. Stops have come down considerably in recent months; officers “have gotten the message.” Maybe some have. But the statements of the NYPD leadership both during and after the trial strongly supporting the program as it has operated over the past six years shows those leaders want the program maintained, not reformed.
Most importantly, Mr. Timoney bemoans the costs of implementing Judge Sheindlin’s orders, and those costs will be considerable. But he fails to acknowledge the costs to the many New Yorkers over the years who were stopped, questioned and frisked without reasonable suspicion. Apparently, Mr. Timoney believes that if the Police Department or the city don’t pay a cost, it doesn’t count. The judge’s decision makes clear that this simply isn’t true: a huge cost has been paid all along.