Safe streets, overruled

The key part of Scheindlin’s ruling is her discussion of the stops performed by one of the NYPD’s hardest-working members. Over a three-month period in 2009, the high-crime Fort Greene area of Brooklyn had seen a spate of robberies, burglaries, and gun violence. The robbery victims described their assailants as four to five black males between the ages of 14 and 19; the burglary victims reported the suspect as a Hispanic male in his thirties between five foot eight and five foot nine; and the shooting suspect was described as a black male in his twenties. During that three-month period, Officer Edgar Gonzalez of Brooklyn’s 88th Precinct conducted 134 stops, 128 of which involved black or Hispanic subjects. That stop ratio is consistent not only with the specific crime patterns then afflicting Fort Greene, but also with the overall crime rate in Gonzalez’s precinct. Blacks and Hispanics commit nearly 99 percent of all violent crime in the 88th Precinct and over 93 percent of all crime. In terms of sheer volume, few officers come anywhere close to Gonzalez’s absolute number of stops. …

Scheindlin, however, apparently believes that population ratios are the proper benchmark for measuring the legality of stop activity. She points out that Gonzalez’s racial stop rate “far exceeds the percentage of blacks and Hispanics in the local population (60 percent).” In other words, though whites and Asians commit less than 1 percent of violent crime in the 88th Precinct and less than 6 percent of all crime, they should make up 40 percent of all stops—to match their representation in the local population.