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)


Baltimore’s residents are affected by racial profiling in motorist stops, which is part of a statewide issue. In January, the state’s high court ruled that state police must open their records to the Maryland NAACP so the organization could monitor law-enforcement practices and racial profiling complaints from motorists.

But this is only the latest in the Maryland State Police Department’s struggle with complaints about profiling procedures, which began in the 1990s, including 1993’s ACLU class-action lawsuit against MSP on behalf of Robert L. Wilkins, an African-American attorney who was stopped, detained and searched.


In Oakland, Calif., some are asking if stop and frisk is on the way, after city council members recently approved hiring stop-and-frisk champion William Bratton to consult their police department on a public-safety plan. Crime has risen overall in the Northern California city by 17 percent, according to city statistics (pdf), and some say the bump is due to slim local police forces.

Bratton, a retired police chief of Los Angeles and New York City, told CBS News earlier this year that “when [a cop] stops somebody for a traffic violation … he has a reasonable suspicion that [person] committed a crime or is about to commit a crime.

“Any police department in America that tries to function without some form of stop and frisk … is doomed to failure,” he added.

From 1994 to 1996, Bratton was the New York police commissioner, and he later became chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 2002 to 2009. While he’s credited with reducing crime in both cities, he’s also known for implementing the racial-profiling practice that has gotten current New York Commissioner Kelly in so much trouble. Bratton is also the co-creator of Compstat, the crime-mapping system that uses data to direct police to high-crime areas.

Though statistic-driven policing techniques like Compstat might be effective in identifying problem areas in some cities, the overwhelmingly skewed numbers show this tactic falls flat in places like Philadelphia, New Orleans and New York, where minorities are picked up by police often and unnecessarily.

“Police don’t just stop any white guy walking to work, but when they are stopping white guys, maybe they’re acting on suspicious tips or acting on suspicious behavior,” Edwards says. “I think that increases the chances that something is up. When it comes to people of color, it’s often race-based.”

As some American cities face rising violence, time will tell how local authorities will combat the problems in safe, respectful ways. For some in the policing community, though, the answer is clear.

“For any city to say they don’t do stop and frisk … they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” Bratton told CBS in January. “Every police department in America does it. The challenge is to do it constitutionally within the law … compassionately; you’re dealing with human beings.”

Hillary Crosley is The Roots New York City bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.