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Why Stop at Stop-and-Frisk? The Constitution, the Quest for Safer Streets, and Why Ends Don't Justify Means

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In the weeks since federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that NYPD's "stop-and-frisk" tactics are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory, there's been a lot of alarming chatter about the expected rise in crime that will occur from any changed policy in stop-and-frisk methods. New York City politicians, law enforcement officials and activists have all weighed in on the ruling and its potential impact on crime -- and it's been reported that "no single issue has shaped New York City's Democratic mayoral primary more than the aggressive stop-and-frisk tactic used by police, with some residents saying it was the deciding factor in backing a candidate."

Critics of the ruling -- most notably New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- continue to stress that without the current stop-and-frisk policy in place, violent crime will once again escalate in New York City. Of course, nobody wants to see an increase in violent crime. The statistical evidence, however, suggests that stop-and-frisk policies have not been overly successful. In fact, despite all the illegal frisks for weapons and contraband, more than 98 percent of the time neither weapons nor contraband were actually recovered. Although there might have been a deterrent effect, nobody can know for sure. Nor can we do anything but speculate as to whether criminals, now aware that police would no longer be able to conduct unconstitutional street stops, would be more likely to carry guns or drugs.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the "ends justify the means" for safer streets at any cost. Then why pull our punches and just stop with stop-and-frisk? In this spirit, let me "recommend" the following progressive crime-fighting tactics:

Create a national fingerprint and DNA bank. We already maintain permanent fingerprint records for people convicted of even the lowest level crimes and also some non-criminal petty offenses, and the list of offenders who are forced to provide their DNA to databanks is growing. So why not simply expand it to everyone, young and old? Knowing that your prints and DNA are forever on file might deter most crimes. But when a crime like a burglary or rape does occur, police could match the forensic evidence collected to the vast database and quickly crack many cases.

Collect regular urine samples. If you're an athlete competing in sports, you likely already are required to submit to regular urine testing, even including out-of-season and unannounced collections. People in a variety of public and private sector jobs also must submit to drug screening. Why not expand the program to everyone? Those who fail would be mandated to treatment. Knowing you might have to urinate in a cup at any time might dramatically reduce drug abuse. Less demand would mean less supply, without the expensive drug war policies we've pursued.

Require civilian shoulder videocams. The government is tracking our calls, texts and emails. If you're working in a convenience or retail store, or in many other fields, there's already a camera watching you all day long. Go outside and our streets have cameras everywhere, allowing developing facial recognition technology to identify criminal culprits. Our cellphones and highway license plate readers are recording our daily whereabouts. There's no privacy left in America, so why not kick it up a notch? Police departments are equipping officers with shoulder-mounted video cameras, so why not use the same technology for civilians? The feed from the camera wouldn't be subject to police review unless you became a suspect. If you have nothing to hide, why object? Besides, having a camera on your shoulder would be the ultimate deterrent to being robbed or victimized.

You may not like my "recommendations." I didn't think you would. Concededly, I'm exaggerating to make a point. The point is the Constitution matters. I don't want to live in a police state. And if it means I have to settle for streets that may be marginally less safe because the Constitution is being upheld, so be it. If an honest cop has a non-discriminatory, reasonable cause to stop someone and ask questions, all good. But subjecting people to baseless stops and bodily searches, or worse, to stops based purely on the color of someone's skin, would be a dangerous step toward the kind of Orwellian world my "recommendations" would bring, and that's pretty scary.