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Donald Trump Wants to Nationally Expand Stop-and-Frisk… Which Doesn’t Work

PoliticsDonald Trump Wants to Nationally Expand Stop-and-Frisk… Which Doesn't Work

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Today in truly terrible ideas.

One of the many, many criticisms made about one Donald J. Trump is that for someone who purportedly wants to win the White House in six weeks, he has precious few ideas about what he would actually do once he gets there. (No, "Build That Wall" and "Make America Great Again" are not policy proposals. Please stop yelling.) Perhaps seeking to remedy this arguably very serious deficiency, Trump threw out this bright idea today at an event billed as African-American voter outreach, which, incidentally, got off to a rousing start:

First of all, no president, Trump or otherwise, has the authority to set local law enforcement policy, a fact that any high school student with a rudimentary understanding of "separation of powers" knows. But more importantly, "stop and frisk" as Trump uses it here means something very specific, and (surprise!) very gross.

The stop-and-frisk, or Terry stop, is not new. Cops do it legally all the time. If an officer has a "reasonable suspicion" that someone is involved in criminal activity, they can briefly stop that person and conduct a search for weapons. Ever been pulled over? That's a type of Terry stop. Use your turn signal next time.

Trump is not talking about traffic stops. He is arguing for the widespread use of stop-and-frisk for which New York City became notorious over the past two decades or so. The NYPD under Mayors Giulianai (yeah, that one) and Bloomberg ramped up its use, peaking with an incredible 685,724 separate Terry stops in 2011. The idea is that by increasing the perceived likelihood that one will be stopped and searched, you discourage people from bringing, say, guns out in the first place.

There are two little problems with this theory, though. One, there isn't that much evidence that it actually works. The link between stop-and-frisk and falling crime rates is tenuous at best. Meanwhile, the evidence did show that that pesky "reasonable suspicion" requirement, in practice, became "Hey, that guy's black." Even when controlling for neighborhood crime rate, the best clue about stop-and-frisk frequency turns out to be a given precinct's racial makeup.

In other words, in order to reduce crime in minority neighborhoods, Donald Trump wants to use a power he doesn't have to implement a policy that doesn't work and, by the way, that also has a discriminatory effect on people of color.

If Trump doesn't know that his own city's stop-and frisk initiative is ineffective, he's profoundly ill-informed for someone seeking elected office. If he does know, then he has bad policy ideas and endorses race discrimination. Neither are really particularly great outcomes for someone who wants to be president.

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