NYPD Stop and Frisk: Still Racist

The New York Civil Liberties Union has a new report on the NYPD’s stop and frisk program through the first nine months of 2012. The good news is that the number of stops is down; the bad news is that the stops are still pervasively targeted at black and Hispanic people.

The NYPD stopped more than 1,400 totally innocent New Yorkers every day during the first nine months of 2012, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union analysis of new police data. During the first three quarters of the year, police stopped innocent New Yorkers 383,897 times – the overwhelming majority of whom were black or Latino. At the same time, street stops declined by 30 percent from the same period last year.

“It’s encouraging to see street stops decline for the second quarter in a row,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “The drop in stop-and-frisks coupled with the drop in gun violence contradicts the NYPD’s narrative that stopping and frisking every person of color in sight is necessary to reduce crime in New York City.

“At the same time,” Lieberman continued, “the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program continues to have a 90 percent failure rate. It remains a tremendous waste of resources, sows mistrust between police and the communities they serve, and routinely violates fundamental rights. A walk to the subway, corner deli or school should not carry the assumption that you will be confronted by police, but that remains the disturbing reality for young men of color in New York City.”…

The latest stop-and-frisk report shows that the NYPD stopped and interrogated New Yorkers 105,988 times between July 1 and Sept. 30. About 84 percent of those encounters did not result in arrests or tickets. About 87 percent of those stopped were black or Latino. Whites were around 10 percent of people stopped.

Unfortunately, there is little chance that the Supreme Court, as currently configured, will do anything to rein in this clearly unconstitutional policy. The 4th Amendment could hardly be more clear: You cannot search someone without probable cause, not merely a vague perception by police officers that someone is acting suspiciously. The fact that they are wrong more than 90% of the time clearly proves that they don’t have probable cause.

Comments

  1. Ben P says

    I’ll play devil’s advocate here.

    The reason most court challenges to this sort of thing fail is because it depends on the Officer’s statement after the fact.

    The stop and frisks are just terry stops and all an officer needs is “reasonable articululable suspicion” that the accused is involved in criminal activity.

    That constitutionally cannnot be “the accused was a minority,” but can be something like “the accused was walking in an area with a high crime rate (i.e. brooklyn, queens, you know) was acting suspiciously (had hands in pockets, attempted to walk around officers etc).

    In short, the officer will write down whatever he thinks makes sense on the police report, then testify later in court that it was the gods honest truth as to why he stopped the guy. Because the testimony is entirely about the officer’s subjective opinion, no court in the world is going to disbelieve the officer’s testimony when the suspect says “no I wasn’t acting suspiciously!”

  2. Didaktylos says

    The easiest way to stop this would be to require that every time an officer does this, and it doesn’t result in an arrest, they have to send the person in question a hand-written thank-you note of at least 500 words, which must be completed on their own (i.e. not paid) time.

  3. bradleybetts says

    Just playing Devil’s Advocate, but there could be a perfectly rational explanation for the correlation other than “all cops are racist”. For example, it seems likely to me that they would target their stop-and-search efforts in High Crime areas. High Crime areas are also generally Low Income areas, and Low Income areas have a higher average population of Blacks and Latinos, therefore…

    You’ve automatically jumped to the cliche “all cops are racist” reaction without considering other possible factors. Of course there are some racist cops, but as far as I’m concerned painting all cops as racist, or painting racism as the norm among the Police Force, is no better than painting all Muslims as terrorists. It’s an oversimplification of a complex situation which stereotypes an entire diverse group of people based upon the highly publicised actions of a bigoted minority within that wider group. And what you’ve done here, if you will forgive me for saying so, seems to be an interpretation of this data based upon the existing idea that the police force is overwhelmingly racist. In other words, confirmation bias.

  4. gshelley says

    90% is clearly too high, and it is hard to argue any sort of probably cause when they are nearly always wrong, but it would be useful to know if the failure rate is the same for black, white and Latino. If there is any genuine signs that the police are using, then I would expect that a much higher percentage of whites are found to be carrying something suspicious. If it is 90% across all groups, that suggests the police are essentially randomly selecting people, but taking every 2nd (as an example) black person, and every 10th white.
    Of course, if it was the other way round, that they had a 90% success rate, that would suggest that either 90% of people are criminals, or that they are using actual indicators

  5. Artor says

    Interpreting this issue as “All cops are racist,” is almost as bad as what the cops are doing. The issue here is that the NYPD has racist policies that the cops, racist or otherwise are following. The stop-&-frisk practice is clearly racist, and I’m tempted to call out bradleybetts above for tone-trolling & burning straw men.

    Let’s try this for a solution; all cops in the US have to wear lapel cameras to record sound and video. If a cop sees someone suspicious, they must state for the record what irks their suspicions, before stopping an individual. Then we can compare the stated reason for the stop with the behavior of the cop and the suspect. The cop is then free of any suspicion of illegal profiling, and the public is free(er) from abuse by power-drunk cops.

  6. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @bradleybetts #3

    Are you deliberately obtuse?

    Point to where anyone on FtB asserted that all cops are racist.

    Do you even know the difference between a racist policy and a racist person?

    Is that distinction too much for your widdle brain?

    Stop accusing us of making blanket statements we can’t back up when we’re the ones discussing the evidence and you can’t be bothered to stick to the facts – not eve the facts of the discussion in front of your nose.

  7. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    #4 – the thing is that more than 90% of us ARE criminals.

    there are some laws that are useful to have but whose consequence, whose raison d’etre, isn’t criminal enforcement.
    Jaywalking is a great example. If you jaywalk and get hit by a car, you are much less likely to recover damages since you were doing something illegal that contributed to the risk. When we know jaywalking is technically illegal, especially if we know someone whose judgement was reduced (say from 10k to 6k) because jaywalking contributed to the overall risk of accident, we will be more careful when we do choose to cross the street away from crosswalks and other areas drivers expect to find pedestrians.

    That doesn’t mean that we want to give the cops the right to do a body cavity search on us any time one of us is seen jaywalking. Yes, we’re committing the lowest level of criminal offense (violation is an offense of lower level than misdemeanor or felony), but that doesn’t mean that we should even be stopped and frisked. This is a common behavior. The law merely shifts the burden of risk for the behavior onto the person making the decisions that create that risk.

    So the “high crime area” thing – well, yeah. Sure. We know that rich people don’t, for instance, speed. Nor do they drink alcohol in public parks. Nor do they do any of a number of things for which others are hassled every day. Police are in low income neighborhoods and see crimes and address them – which puts those crimes on record which adds to the official impression that it’s a high crime area. They aren’t in rich neighborhoods busting the parents who open a bottle of wine at the family picnic in the park, adding that to the crime stats.

    Are police in high crime areas or are high crime areas where the police are? [Note-> not saying it's as easy as just assuming that all areas are equal in crime and police presence is the only variable, but calling attention to an overlooked variable that has a huge effect]

    Anyway, I’m frankly surprised that they can’t bust more people when a baggie that used to contain weed and still has residues justifies a pot possession charge.

  8. scienceavenger says

    The 4th Amendment could hardly be more clear: You cannot search someone without probable cause…

    Which is precisely why your other thread on possible constitutional amendments is, other than a nice intellectual exercise, tilting at windmills.

    Perhaps the new third amendment should be: Courts may not ignore these amendments.

  9. scienceavenger says

    …the accused was walking in an area with a high crime rate

    Even in high crime areas, the proportion of people engaged in criminal behavior is a tiny minority, far below 90%

    was acting suspiciously (had hands in pockets, attempted to walk around officers etc)

    Gee, I can’t think of a single reason a law abiding citizen would have his hands in his pockets in a city with blistering cold weather. Nor can I think of any possible reason a law abiding citizen would want to avoid people who are likley to waste his time in a threatening and annoying fashion.

    Your Devil’s advocacy needs work.

  10. scienceavenger says

    You’ve automatically jumped to the cliche “all cops are racist” reaction without considering other possible factors.

    It’s more likely you’ve jumped to the conservative bubble cliche that the people interpreting social data have no idea what they are doing and make the most fundamental mistakes. It’s a technique bubbleheads (hmm, I like that) use to dismiss all data that threatens their worldview, and without the bother of actually checking the study methods to confirm that errors were made. It’s intellectual dishonesty disguised as honest skepticism.

    I’ve looked at such studies and by and large they don’t make the kinds of errors you mention. Even accounting for economic, geographic and other social factors, black and brown people are targeted far more than is justified. I know that may upset some people’s worldview of living in a post-racial society, but reality doesn’t care what you think.

  11. comfychair says

    And a person with his hands NOT in his pockets is automatically suspect too, as the criminals know ‘hands in pockets’ is a tip-off and avoid doing that in an attempt to evade detection!

    Also, if they don’t want to be stopped, all they have to do is stop looking so guilty all the time. /derp

    (sorry, I’m a bit het up as I have been exchanging emails with a (ex?)friend who is trying to explain to me how no one has ever been as free as were the southern slave states before Lincoln’s treasonous War of Northern Aggression… seriously… in 2012… people apparently capable of feeding themselves and using the big-boy toilet all by themselves are still making these arguments…)

  12. bobaho says

    ahh yes, stop and frisk… Geography says it affects high number of minorities because it is conducted in areas with that proportion of minority residents – IIRC, the Bronx being #1. You don’t see many stop and frisks in the theater district or Upper East Side. So the rate is explainable – nay expected, given the demographics of where it’s conducted. It’s the practice of it that is questionable.
    Bloomberg and Kelly always stress the goal is to reduce guns on the street. Stop and Frisk is not about finding weed or harassing the populace, it’s about enforcing NYC’s strict gun control laws. That on the face of it, is beneficial and desirable. Unfortunately the NYPD implementation leaves much to be desired. The NYPD doesn’t have a stellar record respecting anyone’s rights, let alone the civil rights of a suspected criminal, so many instances of the practice are unwarranted is all aspects of the word.
    To me the meta question becomes how to enforce laws that make possession of a thing, not its use or misuse, illegal. Is it possible to enforce those laws without such intrusive measures such as Stop and Frisk? What’s the trade-off point, when does the state admit that too many innocents were caught versus instances criminal law were enforced; and what’s to prevent the state from inflating the latter figure?

  13. cactusren says

    bradleybetts:

    For example, it seems likely to me that they would target their stop-and-search efforts in High Crime areas. High Crime areas are also generally Low Income areas, and Low Income areas have a higher average population of Blacks and Latinos, therefore…

    bobaho:

    Geography says it affects high number of minorities because it is conducted in areas with that proportion of minority residents – IIRC, the Bronx being #1.

    For the record, even in the Bronx, African Americans only make up about 36% of the population. “Other” is about 26% (Hispanic is considered an ethnicity, not a race, so I think the majority of Hispanics are then classified as “other” for race). So even in what is purportedly the most targeted Burough, these groups still only make up, at most, 62% of the population. I realize that will still vary by neighborhood, but it would still seem that 87% is a disproportionate number of blacks and latinos. If anyone can find demographic data on a finer scale, I’d love to see it.

    Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_New_York_City

  14. says

    bobaho “You don’t see many stop and frisks in the theater district or Upper East Side.”
    Law & Order: Stop ‘n’ Frisk Unit.
    [Upper East Side]
    [tunk, tunk!]
    “My God! Look at all the cocaine!”

  15. bradleybetts says

    @artor #5

    I can promise you, I’m not trolling. I’m not sure what “tone-trolling” is, but I’m merely offering an opinion. Nor do I see how I’m going up against a straw man; it says quite clearly in the title that the stop-and-search is racist. I’m merely saying that it’s not fair to accuse an entire police force of racism based on a correllation.

    @Scienceavenger #10

    I’m not a conservative (I’m bottom left of the political compass, nor do I believe we live in a “post racial society”. Racism still exists; I’m not naive. I’ve seen it happen to friends of mine and have on occasion experienced it myself. My point was that, unless I’ve completely misunderstood, Ed has labelled an entire Police force racist because of a correlation which indicatese their stop and search procedures target people of colour. This correlation is certainly cause for concern and should be investigated, but it seems unfair to label the whole force right off the bat.

    I do agree with Ed that the whole stop and frisk programme itself is a bad idea in the first place, but that’s another conversation.

  16. D. C. Sessions says

    Of course they have probable cause. The Constitution does not set a threshold for how probable. After all, zero is a probability.

  17. jakc says

    Stop and frisk can’t be defended. Period. Doesn’t matter if it’s not racist. The lack of respect for the 4th amendment shown by the courts is absolutely shameful.

  18. laconicsax says

    “the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program continues to have a 90 percent failure rate…Whites were around 10 percent of people stopped.”

    I’m going to intentionally draw (probably) erroneous conclusions here and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.

  19. bradleybetts says

    @ScienceAvenger #19

    “NYPD Stop and Frisk: Still Racist”

    OK, could you expand on how I have misunderstood? Because that seems pretty clear to me.

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