The current administration has touted its tough stance on criminal justice, calling themselves the ‘Law and Order’ administration. On top of stricter enforcement of drug and immigration laws by the Department of Justice, there have been some calls for ‘stop and frisk’ to be expanded in New York and across the country. It became a major issue during the 2016 Presidential election.
What is Stop and Frisk?
Stop and Frisk is known as the Terry stop in other states, essentially allowing police officers to stop individuals and pat them down for any weapons that could be used to hurt them if they had a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime and might be armed and presently dangerous. In Terry, a detective on a beat that he had patrolled for many years observed two men taking turns peering into a shop window and engaging in conversation on the corner. He watched this happen six times each – about a dozen times. The officer suspected them of casing the place for a robbery, and approached the men. He identified himself as a police officer, asked their names, and patted down the men. He removed two pistols from the coats of two men – their outer layer of clothing. In this case, the court determined that the stop and search was reasonable because of the officer’s experience, his observations that a stick up were about to occur, and the search was limited to outer layers. The objective of the search was to ensure protection of the officer and others nearby, and not find any incriminating evidence.
New York City
The police department in NYC utilized stop-and-frisk after 9/11. On average, between 2002 and 2013, nearly 88% of individuals who were stopped by police were not convicted or fined for any crime. Some police officers have criticized the program as being inappropriately implemented, with some even complaining that it is subject to a quota, which the department has denied. An NYPD officer made many recordings in 2008-2009 which showed that there were orders to search and arrest black people in Brooklyn. Independent studies have confirmed that stop-and-frisk in NYC were used more on people of color than any other group. The program has been the subject of criticism for racial profiling.
Bill de Blasio and the program’s efficacy
The mayor of New York pledged in 2013 to reform the stop-and-frisk campaign. He introduced a new inspector general, as well as a racial profiling bill. Under his tenure, while the number of stops has decreased, they still happen disproportionately among black and Latino neighborhoods. There has been criticism that the program has had little effect on reducing crime, although studies show different things and there has been some evidence that crime had reduced during the use of the program, although there has not been confirmation if the program is the cause or if other social factors are at play. Most statistics support the idea that there is little to no correlation between the program and a reduction in crime. Even the bar association of NYC has expressed doubt on whether reasonable suspicion had been sufficiently applied when making stops, saying that the sheer number of stops occur makes it difficult to believe that the constitutional requirement is being adhered to by law enforcement.
Stop and Frisk remains a controversial policing technique that seems to be susceptible to abuse by law enforcement. Any detention and search should be extremely limited, based on reasonable suspicion that a crime will occur or has occurred, and that the person is presently armed and dangerous. Any other hunch is unacceptable.