Actor Kal Penn, famous for playing the oft-stoned co-protagonist of the Harold & Kumar movies, surprised his Twitter followers Tuesday afternoon by coming out in support in of New York's stop-and-frisk policy. "Great op/ed by @MikeBloomberg on the merits of 'stop-question-frisk,'" Penn tweeted, linking to a New York Post column by the mayor titled, "Frisks save lives."
Roughly a minute later one of Penn's followers asked him if he was being sarcastic.
@Only4RM nope. It's a good policy. Sad to see such activist judges ruling against public safety— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) August 13, 2013
As more of his followers piled on, Penn doggedly defended Bloomberg's program, which a federal judge declared unconstitutional earlier this week.
Penn stuck to his guns even after one follower pointed out that New York's crime decline began before the implementation of stop-and-frisk, and that "New Orleans, Baltimore, Dallas, & LA have all reduced violent crime more than #NYC since 2002, w/out #StopAndFrisk."
"That's great," Penn replied. "If they added s&f it'd be even better."
After a few more such exchanges, Penn revealed that he supported the program for personal reasons, obliquely referencing the time he was mugged in D.C. in April 2010, while he was working as an associate director in the White House's Office of Public Engagement:
@CWmsWrites lol well already been a victim of violent crime. It's a sound policy and we need to stop trying to get rid of it— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) August 13, 2013
Is it a sound policy, in the sense that it "works"? Experts are divided. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Bloomberg obviously believe that stop-and-frisk works, and more conservative commentators have argued that since violent crime has decreased under stop-and-frisk, it decreased because of stop-and-frisk. Opponents argue that stop-and-frisk casts too wide a net, which makes communities of color feel besieged and less likely to trust law enforcement. The numbers, meanwhile, suggest that the NYPD is, in fact, stopping people who shouldn't or needn't be. Last year the department recovered one illegal firearm for every 688 people its officers stopped. Of more than 530,000 stops, only 10 percent resulted in a ticket or worse, and most of those tickets were for marijuana offenses.
But as Penn's tweets suggest, stop-and-frisk needn't be legal or sound to work as a placebo for worried city dwellers.