Does NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” Keep Us Safe or Terrorize Minorities?

By Wally McElwain, a Spring 2012 intern

In recent decades, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has not been afraid to take drastic and controversial steps for the stated purpose of stopping crime. New York City suffered greatly during the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s as the murder rate and drug abuse skyrocketed, especially in lower-income neighborhoods. However, the NYPD’s response has created perhaps an even larger problem within the neighborhoods that its officers are sworn to protect.

The NYPD recently released data showing that officers made more than 684,000 stop and frisks during 2011, representing a 14 percent increase from the previous year. As NY1 reported, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne argued that “Stops save lives. Over the past 10 years, there were 5,430 murders in New York City, compared to 11,058 in the decade before Mayor Bloomberg took office.”

Despite the alleged benefits and undeterminable life-saving statistics, civil and human rights advocates say the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy violates citizens’ constitutional rights, undermines police officers’ efforts in fighting crime, and inherently leads to racial profiling, which The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights defines as “the targeting of particular individuals by law enforcement authorities based not on their behavior, but rather their personal characteristics.”

Of the 684,000 New Yorkers stopped and frisked by the NYPD last year, African Americans accounted for 53 percent, Hispanics 34 percent, and Whites made up only 9 percent. Nine out of ten of the stopped subjects weren’t arrested or given a summons.

Looking at the eight years of data reported by NYPD, the Center for Constitutional Rights has determined that “race is the main factor determining NYPD stops … even after adjusting for crime rates, social conditions, and allocations of police resources in various neighborhoods.”

In New York, advocacy groups such as the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and National Action Network have condemned stop and frisk.

At a press conference, Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director, said that of the 600,000 times New Yorkers were stopped, “barely six percent of these terrorizing encounters resulted in arrest.” While Michael Harding, an attorney at the National Action Network, persuasively described how stop and frisk is counter-productive in getting guns off the street. “If you have a professional police force that is interacting in a professional and respectful way, you are going to have more people participating in gun buyback programs.”

As opponents of stop and frisk have pointed out, there is not strong evidence supporting the argument that subjecting a minority community to the constant threat of arrest reduces crime. However, from the data, we do know that stop and frisk is disproportionately targeting young men of color and placing entire communities under suspicion.