Stop and Frisk in New York -- Exploring the Controversy

Let's say you're visiting a friend's apartment building for the first time as an invited guest. As you walk the halls looking for your friend's apartment, you come across a police officer.

The officer stops you. He questions you about whether or not you're a resident and what you're doing in the building. He then informs you that he's going to frisk you.

What happened? You were innocently going about your business, but you were stopped and frisked by the police. Why did the officer do it? In this case perhaps there were recent burglaries in the building and you matched a physical description of the suspect. Is this legal? Yes. Should it be? That's a good question.

Stop and frisk in New York is a complicated issue with its fair share of both proponents and critics. To give you some balanced background, let's explore arguments on both sides of the New York Police Department (NYPD) stop and frisk controversy.


New York Stop and Frisk Statistics

The NYPD periodically releases statistics on its stop and frisk activities. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), a critic of the program, compiles some of this stop and frisk data for citizens. Here are some basic statistics you should know.

  • In 2011, there were 685,724 stops and frisks -- up from 160,851 in 2003.
  • In 2001, 53% of those stopped and frisked were African Americans. Latinos made up 32% of stops and frisks, and whites accounted for 9%.
  • In 2011, 89% of those stops and frisks happened to citizens who weren't guilty of any crime.

The Case For Stop and Frisk Policies

The NYPD and other supporters of the New York stop and frisk policy cite several arguments that stop and frisk should continue. For example:

  • They claim that the stop and frisk program has helped to lower the NYC murder rate.
  • People feel the stop and frisk policies help the police get guns off the street, and that benefit outweighs other costs.
  • Supporters claim that there is no racial discrimination because the racial breakdown of those stopped and frisked is related to similar racial breakdowns of violent crime suspects. For example, if a witness comes forward saying a young black male committed a crime, police would naturally stop more people in the area fitting that description.
  • They feel stops and frisks in NYC keep residents safer in general by stopping criminals and serving as a deterrent.

The Case Against Stop and Frisk Policies

On the other side of this issue you'll find the NYCLU, people who feel they were unfairly targeted by police, and citizens who worry about being targeted by police on a daily basis. Here are some of their arguments against stop and frisk in NYC.

  • One of the biggest complaints is that stops and frisks in New York are racially biased. African Americans and Latinos make up the vast majority of individuals stopped, as documented in the statistics above.
  • They also claim the policies are largely ineffective at stopping crime and getting guns off the street. As The New York Times reported in August 2012, only around 6% of stops lead to arrests, and in 2011 guns turned up in only one out of every 879 police stops. Critics also point out that the murder rate was dropping even before the escalation in stops and frisks under Mayor Bloomberg, making it a case of correlation but not causation.
  • Due to the large number of innocent people being stopped and frisked in NYC, critics contend that the policies have damaged trust between citizens and the police force. Rather than feeling they can turn to officers or count on them for protection, they fear unwarranted stop and frisks. No innocent party wants to be treated as a criminal.

Have you had a personal experience with stops and frisks in New York? Are you an officer who conducts stops and frisks? Are you a citizen who feels you were unjustly stopped or frisked? Do you feel more or less safe with this program in place? No matter what side of the issue you're on, we'd like to hear your story and give you a chance to share it with the world here at StopAndFrisk.com.

Contact us today to submit your story about New York stops and frisks, and we'll consider publishing it here on our blog.