I’m still thinking about all the searching that I saw during my police ridealong on Friday, and it’s still bothering me.

In our class on policing strategies last night, we talked a lot about “quality of life” policing in New York. Under Police Commissioner William Bratton, one major initiative was to get guns off the streets and generally “clean things up” through aggressive enforcement of minor laws: jaywalking, urinating in public, open containers, etc.- “quality of life” issues. See a squeegee man in the middle of the street? Cite him for jaywalking and use that as justification to do a full search of him.

This strategy produced lots and lots and lots of guns, which were taken off the streets, which certainly is a good thing, particularly in communities blighted by crime. New York in general experienced a tremendous drop in crime under Bratton. (though Stephen Leavitt would argue that we can thank legalized abortion for that.) In this so-called “quality of life” policing, the people who were searched were searched because they were doing something illegal, which seems like a nice contrast to the kind of “walking while young and black” searching I saw during my ridealong. But for some reason, I’m not terribly comforted.

Here’s my thinking: if any kid, or any kid’s parent, possesses some basic law training or a heightened sense of civil rights, and decides to bring a complaint against the Chicago cop who decided to search their crotch for drugs despite ABSOLUTELY NO PROBABLE CAUSE, I’d put money on the cop. There’s no way that any cop with any experience couldn’t come up with a reasonable suspicion claim justifying the search. “Oh, he was looking around shiftily, which I know from my experience is indicative of a lookout during a drug sale, so I had probable cause for a Terry stop to search him.” You get the idea.

I honestly can’t decide which is worse: the New York “let’s crackdown on ticky tack offenses for the sake of finding reasons to search people that are within our rights, but man are we going to piss off squeegee men and drifters and really emphasize the divide between police and civilian,” or the Chicago “we’ll be polite, we’ll cultivate some rapport, but we’re going to search whoever we damn well please so there’s no real need to go into all this jaywalking nonsense.”

Thoughts?

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