How Data Took Down NYC's Stop and Frisk

When statistics and the testimony of young black men come together, justice may be possible after all.

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In June, Bloomberg also said during his weekly address, "I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It's exactly the reverse of what they say."

But the plaintiffs' use of data was enough to convince the judge that the city's practices were discriminatory. Meanwhile, she found that Fagan's analysis was stronger than that of the city's experts. Combined with expert testimony and the stories of young black men, this tipped the balance for the plaintiffs.


Indeed, the plaintiffs made sure that Scheindlin saw the NYPD's CompStat statistics, such as this one: 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. These numbers were presented alongside striking personal testimony from civilians and police officers. Indeed, the Daily News reported in March that Bronx police Officer Pedro Serrano testified he was instructed by his superior in no uncertain terms who to target:

Stop "the right people, the right time, the right location," Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack is heard saying on the recording.

"He meant blacks and Hispanics," Officer Pedro Serrano, who made the secret recording, testified Thursday in Manhattan federal court.

"So what am I supposed to do: Stop every black and Hispanic?" Serrano was heard saying on the tape, which was recorded last month at the 40th Precinct in the Bronx.

On page 56 of her decision (pdf), Scheindlin references testimony from the defense's liability expert Dennis Smith, an associate professor at New York University, who says that the stops of minorities are proportional because blacks who are stopped are the same number of blacks who are criminal suspects. She continues, writing this:

Rather than being a defense against the charge of racial profiling, however, this reasoning is a defense of racial profiling. To say that black people in general are somehow more suspicious-looking, or criminal in appearance, than white people is not a race-neutral explanation for racial disparities in NYPD stops: it is itself a racially biased explanation.

"That was the argument we kept hammering against throughout the trial, when the police witnesses said, 'You have to look at the crime suspects, and most are black and Latino; that's who we're stopping,' " Darius Charney, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said. "There may be a lot of black suspects, but most of the black people you see are law-abiding. But [if] you're going to be suspicious because they fit the description of the suspects you know about, that's just racial profiling, pure and simple."