Saturday, October 01, 2022

Orthodox NYPD officer offers perspective on ‘stop and frisk’ policy

Teaneck—What started out as a conversation about Fourth Amendment rights in a US Government class led to a lively presentation by a New York City (NYC) police officer about the contentious topic of the city’s stop and frisk program. Along the way Ma’ayanot seniors learned that often there are no simple answers to complex Constitutional questions.

Just as Ma’ayanot seniors began a unit on civil rights, the now famous class action suit that charges the New York Police Department (NYPD) with unconstitutionally stopping and frisking citizens based on race rather than “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity (Floyd v. NYC) began to unfold in Federal District Court in Manhattan. Students were intrigued and commented “Wouldn’t it be cool to hear what a cop thinks?”

That comment sparked their teacher’s memory of an acquaintance who recently mentioned that her son was a New York City police officer. The rest, as they say, is history, and a few phone calls later Officer Elliot Zinstein was scheduled to speak with Ma’ayanot seniors about the issue. As an officer who has conducted “literally hundreds of stop and frisks,” he was certainly qualified to weigh in on the question whether New York City’s stop and frisk policy results in unconstitutional racial profiling, or whether it a necessary and effective crime-fighting tool.

Officer Zinstein began his presentation by summarizing the levels of suspicion needed to detain individuals suspected of criminal activity, and he demonstrated his stop and frisk technique on Mr. Alan Deaett, a Ma’ayanot history teacher. Finally, he offered his perspective on the charges of racial profiling, which, he acknowledged, are substantiated by some pretty difficult statistics. “Remember,” he cautioned, “statistics can be skewed.

“For example, people ask why close to 90% of those stopped under our stop and frisk program are either African American or Hispanic—isn’t that racist, they ask?”

“No,” Officer Zinstein explained, “because the percentage stopped is correlated to the percentage doing crime. In 2012, 66% of violent crime was committed by African Americans, and 26% by Hispanics. In that same year, 55% of stop and frisks were conducted on African Americans, and 32% on Hispanics. The fact that the stop and frisk statistics roughly parallel crime rate statistics proves that we don’t focus on race, we focus on crime. We are looking for activity, not skin color.”

Similarly, he noted that people often question why only 6,000 guns were confiscated in over 4 million searches. “Does that prove that there wasn’t reasonable suspicion for the stop? No it doesn’t. Maybe the reason that people don’t carry guns anymore is because of this program.”

It was clear to the students that Officer Zinstein firmly believes that the NYPD’s stop and frisk program is an effective crime-fighting tool, and is not, in his words, “a racist program.” Some in the audience, however, were not fully convinced, and they left the presentation motivated to carefully follow news reports of this case as the trial proceeds in the coming weeks.

During the question and answer that followed the presentation, students asked Officer Zinstein what it is like to be an Orthodox police officer. He commented that there are actually “two minyans of frum police officers in the NYPD” and that they have been treated well. “I’ve found that you are judged by what you do. I’m a hard worker and I am respected for that.” This comment poignantly brought the discussion full circle; all people should be judged for what they do, not for who they are.

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