Getting Control of “Stop and Frisk” in a Free Society

New York City’s use of “stop and frisk:” stunning numbers, questionable results!

Read more from the recent editorial in the Times:

“Judge Shira Scheindlin of Federal District Court spoke up for the constitutional rights of blacks and Hispanics on Wednesday by granting class-action status to a lawsuit that accuses the New York Police Department of using race as the basis for stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of citizens a year…

“The stop-and-frisk program dates to the 1990s, when the police department adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to policing and began bearing down on minor crime as a way of preventing more serious crimes. Despite the city’s claims, there is no proof that this approach, by itself, reduced crime in New York because crime has fallen in many cities that do not follow New York’s lead.

“Over time, the program has grown to alarming proportions. There were fewer than 100,000 stops in 2002, but the police department carried out nearly 700,000 in 2011 and appears to be on track to exceed that number this year. About 85 percent of those stops involved blacks and Hispanics, who make up only about half the city’s population. Judge Scheindlin said the evidence showed that the unlawful stops resulted from ‘the department’s policy of establishing performance standards and demanding increased levels of stops and frisks.’

“She noted that police officers had conducted tens of thousands of clearly unlawful stops in every precinct of the city, and that in nearly 36 percent of stops in 2009, officers had failed to list an acceptable ‘suspected crime.’ The police are required to have a reasonable suspicion to make a stop. Only 5.37 percent of all stops between 2004 and 2009, the period of data considered by the court, resulted in arrests, an indication that a vast majority of people stopped did nothing wrong. Judge Scheindlin rebuked the city for a ‘deeply troubling apathy toward New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.’ The message of this devastating ruling is clear: The city must reform its abusive stop-and-frisk policy. ”

[Editorial, New York Times, May 16, 2012]

The real question here is what this practice has done to undermine respect for and cooperation with city police among blacks and Hispanics. There will be a long-term negative effect of this which will, ultimately, make police work more difficult and more dangerous.