The Failure of Stop and Frisk


NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal defending the city’s Stop and Frisk program, but as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, the math he uses is dubious at best. He tries to claim that the reductions in violent crime in New York are largely the result of that program.

There are a few problems with that argument. First, there is compelling evidence that the NYPD has been deliberately faking those numbers, downgrading crimes in order to make the stats look better. Second, violent crime has been going down all over the country, not just in NYC. And lastly, the Stop and Frisk program does almost nothing to stop it. Look at this chart from the Center for Constitutional Rights:

WhatHappens

Contraband of all types are found in less than 2% of the stops. Knives and guns are found in 1.24% of the stops. And remember, these stops are based on the police officer having established a “reasonable suspicion” that the person they stop and frisk is breaking the law. If that turns out not to be true in over 90% of the cases, such suspicion clearly can’t be reasonable (forget about probable cause, which is the 4th Amendment standard that should be applied).

It should also be noted that whites are actually more likely to be found with contraband than blacks and Latinos. And yet 87% of all those stopped and frisked are black or Latino. The math here simply does not add up. It’s being used — misused, really — to justify a blatantly racist policy.

And here’s an important point: Even if those numbers did justify the program, it wouldn’t — or shouldn’t — matter. Even if it was a proven method of reducing crime, it’s still unconstitutional. I have no doubt that putting cameras in everyone’s homes would catch lots of people breaking the law that would otherwise not get caught, but no one would think that would justify doing so.

Comments

  1. says

    I have no doubt that putting cameras in everyone’s homes would catch lots of people breaking the law that would otherwise not get caught, but no one would think that would justify doing so.

    Sure they would, if 87% of the homes in which cameras were placed were occupied by blacks or Latinos.

  2. amenhotepstein says

    I have no doubt that putting cameras in everyone’s homes would catch lots of people breaking the law that would otherwise not get caught, but no one would think that would justify doing so.

    Don’t be too sure. I’m quite sure that there are a significant number of Americans who would argue that cameras should be put into people’s homes to catch criminals.

    Just not their homes…

  3. Abby Normal says

    I have no doubt that putting cameras in everyone’s homes would catch lots of people breaking the law that would otherwise not get caught, but no one would think that would justify doing so.

    Except Microsoft’s game console division.

  4. says

    It should also be noted that whites are actually more likely to be found with contraband than blacks and Latinos. And yet 87% of all those stopped and frisked are black or Latino.

    The two are probably related. Blacks are probably stopped for walking while black. Whites are probably stopped for doing something suspicious (IOW, something approximating probable cause). As such it is not surprising that you’d find more contraband with white stops.

  5. stever says

    One plausible interpretation is that a white guy has to be acting very suspiciously indeed to get frisked, so he’s more likely to be carrying contraband.

  6. steve oberski says

    Here’s a thought, if certain elements in NYC have taken note of the fact that you are far more likely to be stopped without probable cause if you are black, latino etc. would they not start recruiting among the demographics least likely to be stopped ?

  7. matty1 says

    I have no doubt that putting cameras in everyone’s homes would catch lots of people breaking the law that would otherwise not get caught, but no one would think that would justify doing so.

    Was there not an actual case of this? As I recall a high school student was given a school laptop and administrators then accessed the webcam in his bedroom and caught him smoking marijuana. OK high school students aren’t everyone and I don’t think they managed to get him charged but someone has thought it was justified.

  8. Pteryxx says

    #9, you probably remember this case:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robbins_v._Lower_Merion_School_District

    where the school district took hundreds of photographs of individual students in their bedrooms, sometimes asleep or undressed, while claiming the remote photo capability would only be used for stolen or missing laptops. The claim that one student was popping pills (he says he was just eating candy) looks like it was floated to justify the indiscriminate dragnet.

    The district also admitted that in Robbins’ case the remote surveillance was activated and left running for two weeks, even though school officials knew the laptop was at Robbins’ home.[3] It also admitted that its technology staff activated the camera on his computer, and gave images it covertly snapped to two Harriton High School principals.[69]

    Six days after the initiation of the lawsuit, and after a district review of its privacy policies, the school district disabled its ability to activate students’ webcams remotely.[5][8] Lillie Coney of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said: “If they thought it was right, they wouldn’t have stopped.”[70]

  9. lancifer says

    I completely support Mayor Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk” policy.

    Why I understand that many of the perps were caught drinking large sodas!

  10. marcus says

    Sodas: Doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Our sugar-water addiction probably kills more people every year than guns, I’m certain more than drugs. /meta
    Stop and Frisk: Doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. Obvy!

  11. Chiroptera says

    Huh. People of color are humilated and are reminded of their proper place. Sounds like this program is doing exactly what it’s supposed to.

  12. marcus says

    @13 Chiroptera And being intimidated and having to live in fear of the police is just an added bonus!

  13. timpayne says

    Debate as you will whether the end justifies the means, but Ed’s constant dissembling over the program’s success is pure bullshit. NYC’s homicide rate dropped at twice the rate of other major cities during the 90s (when there was a general decline) and continued to drop in the 2000s after other big cities had leveled off or actually started to rise. Phenomenal and unprecedented given there’s been no appreciable change in NYC demographics. NYC has become the safest big city in the US, and the only thing that’s changed has been police procedures.

  14. timpayne says

    With Ed’s logic, if you encountered a company with an very aggressive wellness program and very low absentee rates, you’d cancel the program because so few people were sick.

  15. gopiballava says

    timpayne: Can you link to some good citations for that? Any comments on the evidence that the NYPD has been downgrading crimes to make the numbers look better?

    Given that a higher percentage of white people stopped are found to have contraband, it seems odd that the NYPD isn’t telling officers to increase the number of whites they stop and frisk.

  16. kyoseki says

    timpayne

    Debate as you will whether the end justifies the means, but Ed’s constant dissembling over the program’s success is pure bullshit. NYC’s homicide rate dropped at twice the rate of other major cities during the 90s (when there was a general decline) and continued to drop in the 2000s after other big cities had leveled off or actually started to rise.

    *citation needed.

    Meanwhile …

    More than 30 large local jurisdictions have recorded year-to-date (YTD) murders in 2013 with a weighted average decline of over 18% versus the same period in 2012, including:
    Chicago: -39% YTD 5/5
    New York City: -26% YTD 5/5
    Philadelphia: -29% YTD 5/15
    Detroit: -4% YTD 5/12
    Los Angeles: -15% YTD 5/4
    Houston: -11% YTD 3/31
    New Orleans: -11% YTD 4/30
    Washington DC: -20% YTD 5/15
    St. Louis: -9% YTD 4/30
    Memphis: -17% YTD 2/28
    Oakland: -21% YTD 5/12
    San Antonio -63% YTD 3/31
    Kansas City MO: -20% YTD 5/15
    Atlanta: -4% YTD 5/11
    San Francisco: -48% YTD 5/7
    Milwaukee: -25% YTD 4/30
    Baton Rouge: -33% YTD 4/5
    Stockton: -50% YTD 4/23
    Columbus OH: -26% YTD 5/14
    San Diego: -45% YTD 3/31
    Charlotte-Mecklenburg: -33% YTD 3/31
    Louisville: -20% YTD 5/3

    Source: http://www.ricknevin.com/uploads/USA_Murder_Rate_at_Historic_Record_Low.pdf

    … and that’s just this year alone, perhaps you would care to explain how stop & frisk in New York has managed to drop the murder rate nationwide?

    … or maybe even in Los Angeles, which now actually qualifies as “the safest big city in America”.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/los-angeles-crime-rate-falls-10th-straight-year-article-1.1235916

    Of course, it’s worth noting that “big city” draws an arbitrary line at 2 million inhabitants, of which there are only four – New York, Los Angeles, Houston & Chicago.

  17. kyoseki says

    From NYCLU (http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598):

    stop-and-frisk has not reduced the number of people who fall victim to shootings. In 2002, there were 1,892 victims of gunfire and 97,296 stops. In 2011, there were still 1,821 victims of gunfire but a record 685,724 stops.

    New York’s population grew by 3% ( over the same period, so congratulations! A 600% increase in terry stops resulted in a 3% decrease in shootings over 10 years.

    The number of murders dropped from 587 to 515 (but I don’t know what proportion of those murders involved firearms, I can’t find that data)

    Even assuming they all did, it just sounds like medical technology is getting better so fewer people are dying from gunshots (and it is)

  18. kyoseki says

    Whoops, misread the numbers.

    Given the 4% decrease in shootings and the 3% increase in population, I make that a 6.5% decline over 10 years.

    I’m sold, stop & frisk EVERYBODY!

  19. timpayne says

    @17 The elephant in the room that many ignore is that 97% of the shootings in NYC are done by blacks and Latinos. Call it profiling, but if you want to prevent the shootings rather than mop up the blood, you won’t focus on Eskimos and Jewish grandmothers.

    As far as NYC massaging the stats, I’m sure they do, just like everyone else who is measured by bean counters. “Violent crime” is a pretty squishy phrase, but it’s hard to screw with homicide rates. NYC’s have nosedived compared to other cities over the last 20 years. Whether anyone else want’s to use NYC’s tactics is for them to decide, that they’re effective is a matter of record.

  20. brandthardin says

    “Stop and Frisk” is a breach of civil rights for anyone stopped, regardless of their race. The actions and abuse by the NYPD are filling the very definition of a “Police State” where citizens are under never ending scrutiny in order for cops meet a quota designed to turn profits. You can read much more about our Justice System running amuck and how they’ve violated civil liberties across the country in the name of the almighty dollar at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-privatized-police-state.html

  21. kyoseki says

    timpayne

    it’s hard to screw with homicide rates. NYC’s have nosedived compared to other cities over the last 20 years.

    Except that stop & frisk didn’t skyrocket when NYC’s murder rates were “nosediving” did it? It’s bloody well skyrocketed in the past 10 years during which time New York’s murder rate hasn’t actually changed much.

    Doing some basic Googling, it looks like New York’s murder rate has dropped by just under 80% since 1993, with the most rapid decline occurring between 1993 and 1996.

    Los Angeles’ murder rate dropped by over 70% over the same period… with the most rapid decline occurring between 1993 and 1996.

    Yep, I’m convinced.

  22. marcus says

    Yeah timpayne you dumbass what brandthardin said. How would you like it if every time you left the fucking house you were “stopped and frisked”?

  23. sezme says

    As an aside, that chart illustrates someone playing with Excel to no purpose whatsoever. The data being displayed are two-dimensional so to add perspective to the bar graph is more confusing than enlightening. I like my computer toys as much as the next guy, but please ….

  24. Chiroptera says

    The elephant in the room that many ignore is that 97% of the shootings in NYC are done by blacks and Latinos.

    Which is not the same thing as 97% of blacks and Latinos do the shootings.

    Jesus, I hope the new Common Core Standards gives us a better next generation!

  25. DaveL says

    Have I ever mentioned I’ve been consistently impressed with Ta-Nehisi Coates as a writer and a journalist? Because I am.

    timpayne – even if we were to accept for the moment (which I don’t), that the purpose of the justice system is to provide Bayesian-optimal crime reduction, we would be stuck with the fact that, based on the results from “Stop and Frisk” searches, the police’s target selection is manifestly not Bayesian-optimal.

  26. says

    It appears the elephant in the room is that timpayne is going to bat for a racist, useless, intrusive policy on the basis of false premises.

    It’s just that the only person who isn’t seeing that elephant is timpayne.

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