Stop and Frisk Across America

New York openly practices it, but in what other areas are racially skewed police stops an issue?

Ray Kelly (John Moore/Getty Images); Al Sharpton (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images); William Bratton (Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
Ray Kelly (John Moore/Getty Images); Al Sharpton (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images); William Bratton (Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Stop and frisk is a controversial term, mostly associated with New York City, but New Yorkers aren’t the only ones battling racial profiling by law enforcement.

“Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have championed the stop-and-frisk model outside of New York,” Ezekiel Edwards, head of the national ACLU’s criminal-law reform project tells The Root. “Other cities have asked the New York Police Department to train them, and it’s certainly caught on in other places. Also, cities like Los Angeles and New York have had police personnel swaps, spreading the practice.”

The New York Police Department is currently fighting a federal class-action lawsuit by the NYCLU alleging that the practice of stopping a person who an officer merely suspects has committed a crime, is committing a crime or is about to commit one is unconstitutional. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is under the microscope as a judge reviews statistics showing that of the 530,000 people stopped and searched in 2012, only 10 percent were white, and 89 percent of the stops did not lead to an arrest or even a citation. Recently, Kelly defended himself and the police procedure at Rev. Al Sharpton’s 15th Annual National Action Network convention in New York, calling it “lifesaving” and “constitutional.”

Meanwhile, stop-and-frisk procedures are showing up under different names around the nation. Here’s how they play out in four major cities with significant black populations.

New Orleans

While the Big Easy is known for strong drinks and delicious food, the New Orleans police are also known for disproportionately arresting African-American youth. In 2011, 704 black teens were arrested by NOPD, compared with 47 whites. Recently, New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas was taken to task for the large number of minorities arrested under the city’s curfew law, stating that minors under 16 years old and unaccompanied by a guardian must be home by 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday during the school year and 9 p.m. during the summer. Leeway comes on Friday and Saturday, but minors are still required to be home by 11 p.m. unless they are in the French Quarter, where the curfew remains at 8 p.m.

While exceptions are made for kids on errands or commuting from work, statistics from city officials, as reported by the Times-Picayune, show that 93 percent of youths detained under the city’s curfew center were African American. The 2010 census shows that blacks make up 60.2 percent of the city’s population. When faced with the numbers, Serpas defended the curfew, telling press that under curfew, children are “less likely to get hurt or hurt someone else.”


In Philadelphia, litigation by the ACLU helped to curb stop-and-frisk-style policing, says Edwards. In 1996, the NAACP settled a suit against the Philadelphia Police Department (pdf) for racial profiling, resulting in adjusted officer training and the vacation of a number of drug-related sentences. In 2010, the ACLU followed with their own class-action lawsuit, resulting in a settlement, as well as a court-appointed monitor who regulated the police’s stops and searches in 2011.

While stop and frisks overall have declined in the City of Brotherly Love, Edwards notes that “in 2012, 47 percent of the frisks conducted were without reasonable suspicion, 76 percent of the stops were minorities and 85 percent of the frisks were of minorities.”