Stop and Frisk: It’s More About HOW It’s Done!

stop n friskI suggest that the primary problem with the use of “stop and frisk” by police in many of our cities has more to do with how it is done rather than if it is done. The first “how” is that it must be lawful; secondly, it must be respectful.

“Stop and frisk” has been a bone of contention in most minority communities and more recently in New York, our nation’s largest city. I have addressed this issue numerous times on this blog (on Dec. 18, 2011 and in 2012 on March 24, May 18, and June 27). I also wrote about this in my book Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off… and how Nicholas Peart, a young college student in New York had experienced it.

“[Peart] reported to the New York Times in December, 2011, that he has been stopped and frisked by police officers at least five times.  He is one of more than 600,000 citizens of color stopped by police in New York last year; 84 percent of those stops involved blacks or Latinos (only nine percent were of whites).

The police use the excuse that they’re fighting crime to continue the practice, but no one has ever actually proved that it reduces crime or makes the city safer. Those of us who live in the neighborhoods where stop-and-frisks are a basic fact of daily life don’t feel safer as a result.

We need change. When I was young I thought cops were cool. They had a respectable and honorable job to keep people safe and fight crime. Now, I think their tactics are unfair and they abuse their authority. The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them — distrust, alienation and more crime.[1]

“To illustrate this problem further, a recent study at Columbia Law School and reported in The New York Times, found that tens of thousands of times over a six year period, the police stopped and questioned people on New York City streets without the legal justification for doing so. And residents in an area of Brooklyn’s 73rd Precinct, an area in which the residents are predominately poor and black, were most likely in the city to be stopped and frisked by police officers.”[2]

Basically, it comes down to this: good police officers know how to stop and frisk a suspect without stripping away the person’s dignity. The ability to stop, inquire, and even frisk a person on the street without stripping away their dignity is the mark of a good cop. To me, the issue of stop and frisk has always been not about “whether to” but “how;” that is, treating another person with respect and courtesy.

Recently, Bill Bratton, New York City’s newly appointed police commissioner (again) wisely took this approach in a recent interview in the New York Times.

“Bratton said he wants to bring in a language expert, as he did back in 1994, to train police on the best ways to use language to ‘calm down incidents’ by being respectful rather than ratchet them up by being confrontational.

“Noting that you have to use stop-and-frisk ‘with skill,’ he said: ‘We have an expression in policing that it’s not the use of force that gets cops in trouble, it’s the use of language.’

“He said an officer who says, ‘Sir, can I speak to you?,’ rather than ‘Hey, you, get over here,’ will be more productive. They also need exit strategies, he said, to depart from encounters without ‘demeaning’ people.”

Bratton is talking like a smart cop. I think he gets it. Now he has to lead and train other cops to get it, too. He must be able to “walk his talk” from the top down. This is a huge job when you’ve got more than 30,000 cops under your command and the existence of a strong subculture that may work against a more dignified approach to policing and race relations.

[You can read the full article HERE.]


[1]Peart, Nicholas K. “Why is the N.Y.P.D After Me?” The New York Times, December 17, 2011.

[2] Study Finds Street Stops by N.Y. Police Unjustified. New York Times, October 26, 2010.