Mayor Ed Lee: Don’t do it. Don’t implement a stop-and-frisk policy in an attempt to address gun violence in San Francisco. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
It applies to all of us, whether we live in Bayview-Hunters Point or Sea Cliff, the Mission or Pacific Heights, the Tenderloin or St. Francis Woods. Although the mayor has said he would implement this policy only in neighborhoods experiencing high-crime rates, thus sparing the more affluent neighborhoods, this would mean that some residents of only some neighborhoods would be subject to being stopped and searched.
Imagine living in a neighborhood where you can be stopped by an officer at any time for no reason. You can be asked for your identification, stopped on the way to work, or asked to empty your pockets and subjected to a pat search and frisk based on a police officer’s hunch. You can be detained for not having an identification card or failing to answer questions.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a police officer may stop a citizen if there are “specific and articulable facts” that would indicate that a crime is about to be committed.
But the court also held that a person cannot be frisked unless the officer has a reasonable belief that the person is carrying a weapon or illegal contraband.
Make no mistake: Racial profiling does occur in San Francisco. Despite its liberal leanings, a 2007 study by The Chronicle found that African Americans in San Francisco are arrested for felonies at nearly twice the rate as in Sacramento and Fresno, and three times the rate in San Jose, Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego, and four times the rate in Oakland. In response, a police criminologist made 28 recommendations on how San Francisco Police Department should address “perceptions of racially biased policing and its practice.” Some of these reforms have now been adopted. To encourage stops and frisks would reverse the progress made in the last five years.
While Mayor Lee says that the law would not be applied in a discriminatory fashion, data from stop-and-frisk cities bears out the discriminatory nature of the policy’s implementation. The ACLU found that of the 4 million people stopped and questioned by the New York Police Department since 2002, most were black or Latino and 90 percent had committed no crime.
In May, a federal judge found many of the NYPD’s stops unconstitutional, with officers relying on vague grounds such as “furtive” movements. Costly lawsuits have been filed by citizens who were unjustly detained.
Stop-and-frisk doesn’t work. Of the hundreds of thousands of frisks conducted in New York last year, a weapon was found in fewer than 2 percent of the stops.
While most would agree that gun violence needs to be addressed, requiring all San Franciscans to give up their constitutional rights won’t solve this problem.
Effective anticrime and antipoverty strategies, coupled with proven violence prevention and intervention strategies is the better path to addressing violence. A program that targets the very people we want to protect isn’t the answer.
Jeff Adachi is the San Francisco public defender.