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Gun violence on the rise, mayor considers ‘stop and frisk’ police enforcement policy

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Fine line: The “stop and frisk,” a method already used by the NYPD to lower the homicide rate, is a method that some civil rights groups say leads to racial profiling.
  • Fine line: The “stop and frisk,” a method already used by the NYPD to lower the homicide rate, is a method that some civil rights groups say leads to racial profiling.

To combat rising gun violence in The City’s southeastern neighborhoods, Mayor Ed Lee is considering controversial police tactics that would increase street pat-downs of people suspected of carrying weapons.

Ten June homicides have raised The City’s yearly total to 38, although police say non-fatal shootings are down. Much of the bloodshed has taken place in Visitacion Valley and the Bayview.

Lee, a former civil rights attorney, recently told The San Francisco Chronicle that he’s examining “edgy” tactics such as the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policy. But civil rights groups say such methods lead to racial profiling.

“The mayor is very frustrated with the level of gun violence, especially in the southeastern part of our city,” his spokeswoman Christine Falvey said Thursday. “We can’t keep doing the same thing. We need to get better results and the mayor has clearly stated to the community that he is willing to try something edgy, something controversial. However, he’s not willing to infringe on anyone’s civil rights.”

Falvey said the mayor hopes to speak with local community leaders and mayors including New York’s Michael Bloomberg about how to get guns off the streets.

Police possess the authority to briefly detain, question and frisk someone they reasonably suspect of having committed or preparing to commit a crime. Probable cause, a higher standard, is necessary for an arrest.

Yet a recent report by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that of the 4 million people the NYPD had stopped and questioned since 2002, most were either black or Latino and nearly 90 percent committed no crime.

 “To us, what New York’s stop and frisk policy means is racial profiling,” said Alan Schlosser, legal director of the ACLU of Northern California. “So why Mayor Lee would think that this is something to consider for San Francisco is mystifying.”

Schlosser said New York saturated high-crime areas with officers stopping mostly young men of color in a search for guns. He said there was no proof of the policy’s effectiveness.

At a news conference announcing dozens of fugitive arrests and gun seizures, Police Chief Greg Suhr said his department only detains people on the basis of reasonable suspicion.

“We do not racially profile here in San Francisco and never will,” Suhr said.

However, Public Defender Jeff Adachi worried that such a policy would encourage officers to conduct unconstitutional searches based on personal prejudice. “When left to their own discretion,” he said, “you’re going to have a tremendous amount of abuse.”

A 2007 city-commissioned study examining allegations of racial profiling of African Americans by the SFPD recommended that police increase training, improve recruitment and hiring practices, and update their policies prohibiting racially biased policing.

Political consultant Jim Ross said Lee may have opened a can of worms with his suggestion.

“I can only imagine that it would be a monumental fight that nobody wants,” Ross said. “And once he looks into the policy of it, and more fully develops the idea, he won’t touch this.”

aburack@sfexaminer.com

Hot in The City

  • June homicides: 10
  • 2012 homicides (as of June 28): 38
  • 2011 homicides (as of June 28): 26
  • 2012 non-fatal shootings: down 10 percent from 2011

Source: San Francisco Police Department