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San Francisco Stop-And-Frisk: Mayor Lee Still Considering Controversial Policy Despite Growing Opposition

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Protestors gathered on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall to rally against stop-and-frisk.
Protestors gathered on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall to rally against stop-and-frisk.

Despite widespread political disapproval, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee still seems determined to continue exploring the possibility of implementing a controversial stop-and-frisk policy.

The policy, modeled after a similar system in New York, allows law enforcement officers to search anyone they consider suspicious. Critics argue that such a policy, at least as it's currently enforced in other cities, is tantamount to racial profiling.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed a resolution earlier this month that urged the mayor to stop pursuing stop-and-frisk, but Lee is standing his ground.

"The month of June in San Francisco experienced a spike in shootings and homicides in our southeast neighborhoods. This is unacceptable and while I take this issue extremely seriously," said Lee in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. "I have stated that I am willing to look at what other cities are doing to reduce gun violence, including cities like New York and Philadelphia that both have stop and frisk programs."

Supervisors, on the other hand, overwhelmingly believe the policy would be bad for San Francisco. "While I appreciate the mayor's commitment to raising awareness for the public-safety challenges that we have in the city, in particular the issue surrounding gun violence in our southeastern neighborhoods, I don't believe that a policy similar to stop-and-frisk is something worth exploring," Bayview Supervisor Malia Cohen told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Black Young Democrats of San Francisco held a rally on the steps on City Hall on Tuesday against stop-and-frisk, during which organizers turned in 2,000 signatures urging the mayor to reconsider.

Lee, a former civil rights lawyer, insisted that he would never consider enforcing a law that encourages racial profiling or violates the Fourth Amendment rights of San Francisco citizens. "I want to be clear that I have not considered implementing a policy in San Francisco that would violate anyone's constitutional rights or that would result in racial profiling," he added in his statement.

But those assurances haven't been enough for many of the policy's critics, such the San Francisco Examiner, which published an editorial last week strongly questioning Lee's wisdom in pursuing the idea.

Even SFPD chief Greg Suhr seemed cool to the proposal when he was asked about it during a press conference last month. "I'm not saying that I would rule out having a discussion about anything, but I believe that we do it well and we do it right," he said. "[We] make all of our detentions based on reasonable suspicion."

"We do not racially profile here in San Francisco and we never will," added Suhr, who said he and Lee had previously discussed the idea.

The mayor's decision to look into a stop-and-frisk program for San Francisco comes at an interesting time. Earlier this year, the NYCLU released a scathing report about the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk. The report showed that the program overwhelmingly targeted blacks and Latinos

In one New York precinct where blacks and Latinos only make up eight percent of the population, those groups constituted 77 percent of the people detained.

And in the majority black neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn, 93 percent of residents report having been stopped by the police. In fact, more black people were detained under New York's stop-and-frisk program in 2011 then there are black people living in the city of New York.

"The NYPD’s own data undermine many of the Bloomberg administration's justifications for the stop-and-frisk program," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement coinciding with the release of the report. "Contrary to the mayor and police commissioner's assertions, the massive spike in the number of stops has done little to remove firearms from the streets. Instead, it has violated the constitutional rights of millions of people and corroded the ability of communities of color to trust and respect the police."

Lee's timing in pursing a stop-and-frisk policy is also potentially problematic in how it relates to the city's overall violent crime rate. Despite a recent spike in homicides in certain neighborhoods over the past few months, violent crime in the city is relatively low.

The Associated Press reports:

Lee's revelation also comes as a surprise as San Francisco's violent crime rate in 2011 dropped for a third straight year, hovering at historic lows not seen since the 1960s and mirroring a current national trend.

San Francisco had 50 homicides last year, the same number as 2010 and slightly higher than 46 in 2009, but far fewer than the 98 murders in 2008. Meanwhile, neighboring Oakland had 110 homicides in 2011.

For more on stop-and-frisk, watch the video below:

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