Ray Kelly may be one of the best police commissioners this city has ever had. He has fought tirelessly to get guns and drugs off the streets in neighborhoods that have suffered from gang violence. Because of his leadership, violent crime has declined in every borough.
But in recent days, one of the NYPD’s tactics under his watch has come under fire. Community leaders are angry about the “stop, question and frisk” policy which they see as racial profiling.
Kelly insists the police are not targeting minorities, but that is hard to believe. Last year, more than 630,000 people were stopped. Most of these were black and Hispanic men. Only about 10 percent were arrested or issued a summons. That means only a small percentage were carrying a weapon or illegal drugs.
Like the people living in high-crime neighborhoods, we are frustrated by the violence and number of innocent people who have been caught in the crossfire of gang members.
Last year, a child was shot as he sat on a doorstep with his mother, three people were shot in a Wendy’s parking lot in Jamaica and 11 people were shot as they left a Queens going-away barbecue, leaving a 15-year-old girl paralyzed.
We want the guns off the streets and understand the urgency of the situation, but we would be outraged if an officer threw us up against a wall and searched our pockets without cause.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin gave class-action status to a lawsuit by people who had been stopped. The lawsuit accused the NYPD of purposefully targeting black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
Kelly is caught between a rock and a hard place. He can call off the stop-and-frisks or he can fight what will probably be a losing battle in court.
Last Thursday, Kelly sent a letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn detailing the changes he has ordered.
More than 1,500 officers who work in the highest-crime areas will be retrained in how to conduct a lawful stop-and-frisk.
Community leaders should recognize this policy was a response to reality. Kelly is responding to their demands for safer streets.
We hope a way can be found to get the guns out of the hands of drug dealers and gang members that will respect civil liberties.