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Stop and Frisk: Two Inconvenient Truths

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Too often in politics and public policy we let polarization and political point-scoring obscure some obvious truths.

Take the recent back and forth on New York City's stop and frisk program. Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his Police Commissioner Ray Kelly proudly boast of record-setting decreases in crime and murders during the last decade as proof that the city's controversial program is working. The mayor says that more than 5,000 lives of young minority men have been saved in the past decade due to this effort to confiscate illegal guns and other weapons.

On the other side, civil liberties activists and potential Democratic contenders for mayor in 2013 have said that stopping and frisking more than 800,000 people every year -- more than 80 percent of them African-American or Latino men -- is too steep a price to pay in the city's quest to decrease crime and keep our city safe in the absence of sufficient federal gun control laws.

This is a very heated battle that is amping up as the election of 2013 comes into view. The future of our city's policing policies -- and with it, the potential for increased crime -- are at stake.

One candidate, Bill DeBlasio, has made this his rallying cry of late and he should know better. He worked in city government in the early 1990s when crime was rampant and forced many businesses and citizens to leave New York. Surely, he doesn't want us to go back to those days. I'm curious to hear his plan to keep crime down without stop and frisk.

But there are two simple truths that are getting lost in this battle that need to be injected into this debate: First, we live in a different world than the one we lived in a mere 11 years ago. Everyone in America -- in fact, the whole world -- sacrifices some civil liberties every time they go to the airport.

I was patted down (does that sound better than "stop and frisk?") at the airport on a recent trip to Israel and I did not feel like my civil liberties were being violated. This doesn't happen to me on Amtrak, at the subway station or on New York City buses; but because of what happened on 9/11, every airplane passenger has to go through endless checks, including pat downs, shoe removal and other major annoyances to make sure that we do not have another airline tragedy.

The fact that we profile airline passengers doesn't elicit any hue or cry from the civil liberties crowd in the United States these days.

Another, even more salient issue that is getting lost in all this is that the employment rate for young adults 18-24 is barely over 50 percent, with minority communities being hit particularly hard. We need to attack this problem head on with jobs training programs and education opportunities so that there are fewer people on the street each day who are being stopped and frisked.

Mayor Bloomberg has become attuned to this problem and last year he and George Soros decided to donate $60 million to attack minority youth unemployment. Their donations are a good start but so much more must be done to alleviate this huge problem.

I'm curious to hear what concrete ideas Democratic mayoral candidates critical of "stop and frisk" like Bill DeBlasio, Scott Stringer, Christine Quinn and John Liu have on this issue. It's very easy to lob statements vilifying our police commissioner and police force about stop and frisk; it's much harder to say what policing policies they would recommend in its place and what they would do about youth minority unemployment.

Here are my thoughts on this complicated issue: Stop and frisk must continue as a tool for the NYPD. The lives we are saving are in New York's minority community because 90 percent of those murdered by illegal guns on our streets are African-American or Latino.

So, perhaps inadvertantly, those like DeBlasio who are trying to score points with the far left and civil liberties crowd, are actually advocating policies that will lead to more murders of minority youth.

This is an inconvenient, and inescapable, truth.

We must go a step further. We must start a public-private New Deal WPA-like program in minority communities around the city to bring technical and career education and jobs to the unemployed. This will reduce poverty, lead to lower policing costs and improve the quality of life in our poorest neighborhoods.

I'm not suggesting handouts, but a hand up, to our most at-risk youth. Mike Bloomberg and George Soros' money needs to be leveraged with other philanthropic money and public money to solve this problem.

This will lead to less stop and frisk incidents and truly help our poorest neighborhoods.

Are we up to this task?

We'd better be, or we'll see more racially polarizing debates about crime tactics.

We can't afford to let another generation of minority men languish, unemployed, on our streets.

It's time we had an honest appraisal: stop and frisk is saving minority men's lives.

But jobs and education is a better way to save them. That work must begin now.

Tom Allon is a 2013 liberal and Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City.

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Around the Web

Stop and Frisk Practices | New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU ...

Injustices of Stop and Frisk - NYTimes.com

NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Stops Still on the Rise - ABC News

Stop-and-Frisk: NYPD stands its ground while facing sharp criticism ...

NYPD On Track To Shatter Stop-And-Frisk Record In 2012: Gothamist