The good news is that Stop and Frisk—the NYPD’s practice of stopping and patting down people in New York City—has dropped by more than 98 percent since its height and the rate of violent crime continues to drop.
The not-so-good but, frankly, not surprising news is that the percentage of people of color stopped—young black and Latino men in particular—continues to be at much higher rates than their population, regardless of the neighborhood they are stopped in.
On Thursday, the NYCLU released “Stop and Frisk in the de Blasio Era: A review of the NYPD’s Stop, Question and Frisk 2014-2017 Databases.” The report revealed that black and Latino males between 14 and 24 years of age accounted for 38 percent of reported police stops between 2014 and 2017, even though the group only makes up five percent of the city’s population.
Since Mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive, came into office in January 2014, NYPD stops have plummeted, with reported stops now hovering near 10,000 per year (down from a high of 685,000 in 2011). However, black and brown New Yorkers still bear the brunt of the often humiliating and sometimes violent practice, a fact the NYCLU calls “striking.”
“Our analysis reveals that there’s been a lot of progress and that progress should be recognized,” said Donna Lieberman, the CEO of the NYCLU, on Wednesday to reporters on a conference call. “But beneath the surface, there’s been no progress in addressing racial disparities.”
Authored by Legal Director Christopher Dunn and Research and Data Strategist Michelle Shames, some highlights from the report underscore these racial disparities:
- Four out of five reported stops were of black or Latino people: In 73 out of 77 precincts, more than 50 percent of reported stops were of black and Latino people, and in 30 precincts, they accounted for more than 90 percent of reported stops. In six of the 10 precincts with the lowest proportion of black and Latino residents (such as the 6th Precinct where they account for eight percent of the population), black and Latino people accounted for more than 70 percent of stops.
- Young black and Latino males continue to be the targets of a hugely disproportionate number of stops: While they account for five percent of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 38 percent of reported stops between 2014 and 2017.
- Blacks and Latinos were more likely to be frisked than whites but were less likely to be found with a weapon: The study notes that young black and Latino males were innocent 80 percent of the time.
- Cops’ concerns are rarely justified: Though frisks are to be conducted only when an officer reasonably suspects the person has a weapon that poses threat to the officer’s safety, 66 percent of reported stops led to frisks, of which over 93 percent resulted in no weapon being found.
- Innocence doesn’t matter: Between 2014 and 2017, of the 73,055 reported stops of people who were neither arrested nor received a summons, 64 percent were frisked, and 24 percent had force used against them.
In the introduction to the report, the NYCLU notes that in the past, the NYPD has sought to justify the high percentages of stops of New Yorkers of color by contending that those high percentages merely reflect the reality of “high-crime precincts,” or, in plain speak, so-called “bad neighborhoods.”
The report directly contradicts that information by showing that even in neighborhoods where people of color are a minuscule percentage of that community (say, New York City’s SoHo, Upper East Side, or Kip’s Bay neighborhoods), black and Latinos are still being stopped at rates much higher than their percentages of the neighborhood’s makeup.
This makes perfect sense to any black person who’s been pulled over or stopped in a predominantly white neighborhood (i.e., “What is your black ass doing here?”) and illustrates that even though the practice has been curtailed substantially, the implicit bias of racial profiling continues to drive racial disparities in policing across the country.
One of the report’s authors, Christopher Dunn, acknowledges this and noted to this reporter that the NYPD has “embarked upon a significant racial training program,” but concedes that is a long term, slow process to change culture.
In fact, Dunn says it may take “years, if not generations” to get to the point where a young black or Latino person in any neighborhood does not read “criminal” to both law enforcement and those calling law enforcement to report “suspicious” activity.
“They’re taking it on; they’re taking it on seriously. And I think it’s going to be years if not generations in the making,” says Dunn. “It starts with how they’re bringing people into the academy ... but that’s going to be a slow process that they’re dealing with.”
Dunn also said he believes that there are more stops than have actually been reported by police.
“There plainly is a dynamic in the department now in which officers are choosing to not complete stop reports, perhaps as a way of avoiding scrutiny,” he said. “We have every reason to believe there is a significant problem with the underreporting of stops.”
In recent years, false narratives about the efficacy of stop-and-frisk have reemerged. President Donald Trump has continued to call for a nation-wide stop-and-frisk program, and as recently as October 2018, called for an increase in the practice in Chicago, despite the fact that data shows violent crime in New York continued to drop after Stop and Frisk was curtailed, what Lieberman calls “a living case study.”
As with most criminal justice reforms, Stop and Frisk remains a mixed bag. It is inextricably tied to racial bias, which is much harder to root out than simple policy changes. However, public awareness of the practice might possibly spare more innocent New Yorkers the humiliation of being stopped and frisked and serves as a pushback about so-called “effective” policies that continue to criminalize young black and brown folk.