NYPD Releases Disturbing Stop-and-Frisk Statistics

The Fourth Amendment restrains the ability of police officers to stop and detain the people they encounter. Unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, the Fourth Amendment usually prohibits a detention. To frisk the detainee, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and dangerous.

New York City police are apparently a suspicious bunch, given the number of stops they made last year. They're particularly suspicious of black people.

The New York Police Department released new information yesterday showing that police officers stopped 508,540 individuals on New York City streets last year — an average of 1,393 stops per day — often searching them for illegal weapons. The number was up from 97,296 in 2002, the last time the department divulged 12 months’ worth of data. ... The raw data showed that more than half of those stopped last year were black: an average of 67,000 per quarter.

Given the department's ugly history, transparency in its interaction with the public is important. Until yesterday, the department had stalled the (still incomplete) release of statistical measures of its citizen encounters.

A city law and the terms of a settlement agreement require NYPD "to release to the City Council, four times a year, basic data about the people who are stopped and questioned by officers, and the reasons for such encounters."

But until yesterday, it had been a year since the department reported its stop-and-frisk activity, and those numbers dated from a three-month period ending in September 2003. In the meantime, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent city agency that investigates charges of police misconduct, found that complaints involving stops and searches have more than doubled in recent years, increasing to 2,556 last year from 1,128 in 2003. Complaints involving police stops now account for 33 percent of all complaints, up from 20 percent in 2003.

The department's recent assurance that it has stopped racially profiling suspects begs the question: why are blacks disproportionately the target of stops and frisks? The department claims that the largest share of city crime is black-on-black, but there's reason to question whether stop rates correlate with crime rates.

Jeffrey Fagan, a professor of law and public health at Columbia University who studied the issue in 1999 for Eliot Spitzer, then the attorney general, said he was not surprised that the number of stop-and-frisks went up “during a period of no accountability.” But, he added, “it is an astonishing fact that stop rates went up by 500 percent when crime rates were flat.”
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  • Display: Sort:
    probable cause (none / 0) (#1)
    by squeaky on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 02:55:06 PM EST
    The department's recent assurance that it has stopped racially profiling suspects begs the question: why are blacks disproportionately the target of stops and frisks?

    Evidentially because, as every racist knows, being black is probable cause.

    stop and frisk (none / 0) (#2)
    by diogenes on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 07:27:09 PM EST
    1.  Maybe crime rates in New York are flat while they rose in some smaller cities because of the increase in searches.
    2.  Could it be that fifty percent of the people who commit crimes in New York City are black?  That statistic isn't cited to give us a context.

    Diogenes.... (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 07:17:58 AM EST
    As far as I know, there is no asterisk in the Bill of Rights next to the 4th amendment stating "void if you reduce the crime rate".

    Let's save some freedom for future generations, shall we?