Urban Policing and Public Policy — The Prosecutor’s Role
31 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2018
Date Written: 2017
In 2013, a federal district judge found that New York City police stop-and-frisk practices were unconstitutional and must be remedied. Leading up to the court’s ruling, many civic groups, public officials, editorialists, and others chose sides, but the city’s district attorneys mostly stayed on the sideline, playing virtually no visible role in the public discussions before or during the lawsuits. This Essay uses prosecutors’ response to New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy as a lens through which to examine larger questions about elected prosecutors’ functions as public officials. The Essay asks whether elected prosecutors, in the course of their work, should formulate views on controverted public policy issues, such as stop-and-frisk, about which they may have expertise and perspectives. And if so, how can prosecutors’ public policy perspectives legitimately factor into their work, given the functions they serve?
The Essay examines both prosecutors’ core, traditional function of processing criminal cases and three other functions that some contemporary prosecutors serve — namely, providing legal advice to the police, seeking to improve the law, and addressing criminal law-related problems proactively in collaboration with the community and other public agencies (i.e., “community prosecution”). Given these functions, urban prosecutors would be justified in responding to concerns about policing policies, such as New York’s pre-2014 stop-and-frisk policy. But the challenging question is how prosecutors should best respond. The Essay suggests that prosecutors might look to the community for its input on what, if any, measures prosecutors should take. Further, the Essay concludes by identifying a new function that prosecutors might serve — namely, as intermediaries between interested public agencies and civic and community groups, which represent different interests and perspectives with regard to contested questions of criminal process-related policy.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation