The Power Of Police Essay

1909 words - 8 pages

The Power of Police

In the past decade, many police departments have adopted a new theory that says serious crime can be reduced by controlling minor disorders and fixing up obvious signs of decay or litter. The theory is called broken windows, after a 1982 Atlantic Monthly magazine article by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. The article argued that when low-level quality-of-life offenses were tolerated in a community, more serious crime would follow. According to this view, broken windows, abandoned buildings, public drinking, litter and loitering cause good people to stay in their houses or move out of the neighborhood entirely, leave criminals free to roam and send a message that law violations are not taken seriously. The theory's biggest test has been in New York City, where a dramatic decline in crime has been attributed in large part to "order maintenance." Rundown parts of the city have been cleaned up, and police focus more on such problems as panhandling, turnstile jumping, and public drinking. Police have even cracked down on people who clean the windshields of cars at stoplights with squeegees (Parenti 77). Among the first and hardest hit were the homeless, who travel, beg, and live in the political and physical basement of the class system: the city's six-story-deep concrete bowels. During the mean, hot summer of 1990, hundreds of these so --called "mole people" were driven from the nooks and crannies of the A and E lines (Parenti 74). Advocates of such tactics argued that in order to address these crimes, the police must be afforded wide discretion and should not be hamstrung by constitutional rules. Still "broken windows" enforcement has won a proper place among trends in criminal-justice reform. But in doing so, the police ignored the principal lesson of their own theory. If the toleration of minor law violations leads to more serious crime on the street, it would also follow that the toleration of minor law violations by the police will lead to more serious crime on the force. And that is precisely what has happened.
To justify a stop under the Supreme Court's Terry decision, a police officer must have "a reasonable suspicion" of some wrongdoing. In determining reasonableness, an officer "must be able to point to specific and articulable facts" that warrant the governmental intrusion; reliance on "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or [a] 'hunch' " is not permissible. Furthermore, the scope of any resulting police search must be narrowly tailored to match the original reason for the stop. The Court emphasized that a search must always be "strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justif[ied] its initiation." In Terry, the Court identified the police officer's safety as the primary purpose for the search, and concluded that a frisk is permissible if "a reasonably prudent man in the circumstances would be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger" (Cornell Law 3) However, this...

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