Editorial: Scale back with stop and frisk

Monday, May 21, 2012
Text Size: A | A

The New York City Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy has very likely contributed to the continued drop in the city’s crime rate, but the program has expanded too far in recent years. According to a decision issued this week by U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, “street stops” by city police amounted to about 150,000 a year in 1998 and went up to 313,000 annually by 2004. “Since then,” she wrote, “the number has increased every year except 2007, rising to over 684,000 in 2011,” and the city is on track this year to exceed the 2011 number.

Scheindlin granted class-action status to a lawsuit alleging the practice violates the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which, respectively, protect against unreasonable searches and guarantee “equal protection of the laws.”

The latter provision is the basis for the racial aspect of the lawsuit which, according to an Associated Press story, “alleged that the police department purposefully engaged in a widespread practice of concentrating its stop-and-frisk activity on black and Hispanic neighborhoods based on their racial composition rather than legitimate non-racial factors.” While there are real racial concerns to be addressed, and the police did indeed concentrate on majority-minority neighborhoods, the allegation is not credible because the obvious, legitimate reason for the police concentration is the relatively higher crime rates in those neighborhoods.

Still, the more the program expands, the more innocent citizens will be stopped and searched; and most of the city’s drop in crime occurred before the recent expansions of stop-and-frisk. As Scheindlin demonstrates, there is a centralized Police Department policy using quotas to get officers to make more stops. That policy should be changed, reducing the stop numbers to more reasonable levels.

There is a similar ongoing controversy regarding the department’s surveillance of Muslims in the years since the 9/11 attacks. Critics contend that these tactics, too, are unconstitutional. And the city’s defense in the court of public opinion amounts to effectiveness — that the surveillance has helped prevent further destructive attacks.

There are legitimate concerns about the treatment of Muslims by federal authorities since 9/11, regarding the sting operations by the FBI and U.S. attorneys’ offices in which previously law-abiding people are essentially lured into fictitious terrorist plots. One of those cases in Albany resulted in the 2006 conviction of two men, Yassin Aref and Mohammad Hossain, who remain serving 15-year sentences in federal prison. In that case and others, critics are right to be skeptical that justice was served.

But the NYPD was not inventing crimes. It was trying to prevent them, whether by street criminals or terrorists. Stop-and-frisk is not the main reason for the steep fall in the city’s crime rate since 1990 — after a huge rise in crime in the previous three decades — but more effective police tactics were undoubtedly important and beneficial. And police should probably get some credit for the absence of new terrorist attacks. Yet they must observe reasonable limits, which means the NYPD should scale back the stop-and-frisk program.

Share story: print print email email facebook facebook reddit reddit


May 21, 2012
7:40 a.m.
wmarincic says...

And how many weapons and violent criminals are taken off the streets? I guarantee that if a close family member is robbed and killed on the street you would feel differently. BTW stop with the continuous anti police retoric, we are tired of it.

May 21, 2012
2:32 p.m.
Fritzdawg says...

The article is about cops in NYC, not the Capital District.
The cops in NYC are none too pleased to be doing this and are only doing it on orders from their superiors.

In THIS area, (you know, the one where most of your readers live?) "stop and frisk" barely happens at all.

In THIS area, the cops only frisk you if they feel there is a need to, based on your actions, or behaviours, (obvious drug dealing, or being seen trying to conceal something) or if a crime happens, and you fit the description.

I don't think that the cops in THIS area, go on many "fishing expeditions" of this type at all.

May 21, 2012
5:38 p.m.
wmarincic says...


Since most of SPD's time is responding to domestic violence calls and being unpaid ambulance drivers in a city where the per capita crime is the same as Albany with half of the Police force, i dare say they really dont have time to be as proactive as they want to be.

May 21, 2012
7:36 p.m.
Fritzdawg says...

They still don't just stop and frisk people just on spec.
Nor do they in Albany.

If you are just coming out of a known drug sales area, and don't look like you belong there they might, but still, it's very seldom.

May 21, 2012
8:13 p.m.
rswanker says...

wmarincic and Fritzdawg: A quick google search shows:

"In 2011, 88 percent of all stops did not result in an arrest or a summons being given. Contraband was found in only 2 percent of all stops. The NYPD claims their stop and frisk policy keeps weapons off the street – but weapons were recovered in only one percent of all stops."

I've seen similar data from other sources.

Stating "facts" that actually have no supporting data is not a helpful way to further the debate.

Stopping and searching American citizens who are not suspected of having committed or being about to commit a crime is un-Constitutional, and in this case, it is also ineffective.

Also, this editorial does not claim to speak about anything other than the actions of the NYPD. It does not claim to criticize actions of the SPD. Focus, people.

Log-in to post a comment.

columnists & blogs

Log into

Forgot Password?