Stop and frisk's potential for "harassment, abuse and systemic discrimination" makes Ross Douthat sympathetic to its critics. "In a city as safe as New York has become, there should be room to weigh the costs and benefits of different policing tactics," he writes, "and at the very least the Bloomberg administration needs to do more to answer the skeptics who question the link between this specific policy and the city's overall success combating crime."
But he isn't yet convinced that it ought to be abandoned. "New York's relatively low incarceration rate does make a powerful case for the Bloomberg approach, since the social costs of stop-and-frisk are much lower than the costs of mass incarceration," he continues. And "it's also important for would-be reformers to have a clear sense of what that success (in New York and nationally) has meant for the average citizen's odds of being victimized. Thanks to two decades of falling crime rates," the chance a city dweller will be the victim of robbery, rape or assault has been halved, he estimates.
As a would-be reformer who wants stop and frisk to end, I'd like to emphasize that I am also fully cognizant of how salutary the nationwide drop in violent crime has been (though the very fact that it is a nationwide drop suggests stop and frisk isn't the reason for it). In fact, I think violent crime is so terrible that, even with the drop, I favor taking additional aggressive steps to reduce it even more. I just don't happen to think massive Fourth Amendment violations and racial profiling are appropriate options, regardless of efficacy -- any more than it would be appropriate to make it easier to convict criminals by lowering the burden of proof or tracking all city dwellers with ankle bracelets. If we're going to incur costs to fight crime, they shouldn't come at the expense of core liberties, and they shouldn't be born almost entirely by ethnic minority groups.