Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Stop and Frisk Across America

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."


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 Root's New York City bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter