Stop and Frisk, Deconstructed

It is difficult, if not impossible, to pick up a NYC newspaper and not see an article about stop-and-frisk. Indeed, NYC has historically been the stop-and-frisk capital of the U.S. In 2011, the Drug Policy Alliance reported:

“Between 2005 and 2010, the NYPD made over three million stops and (if we assume the same frisk-rate for 2010 as took place in previous years) these stops resulted in about 1.55 million frisks. About 94 percent of the stops did not result in arrests. Nearly 85 percent of those stopped were black and Latino.  That means that there were a shade less than three million stops in instances where there was not enough evidence to support an arrest or a search warrant — and the vast majority of those stopped were people of color.”

The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy did not go unnoticed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other legal advocacy groups. In August 2013, a class-action lawsuit, filed in 2008, went to federal trial. In a landmark decision, Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

But that did not put an end to the practice. Mayor Bloomberg had the city block the ruling, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called the verdict, “disturbing and offensive.”

The federal court decision and ensuing controversy prompted the New York State Attorney General’s Office to release a report further analyzing the outcomes of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practice. This report found that, not only did only 6% of stops result in arrests from 2009-2012, but only 1.5% of all stops resulted in a jail or prison sentence and only 0.1% of all stops led to a conviction for a crime of violence.

Fast forward to 2014 when Bill Bratton becomes NYPD Commissioner under Mayor De Blasio, and the practice is reconsidered. Bratton, who aggressively used stop-and-frisk as part of his “broken-windows” policing strategy during his time as Commissioner in 1994, referred to Kelly’s misuse of the tactic as “the racial profiling issue… of the 21st century.”

Indeed, the NYT reports that once Bratton took over the reins, both stop-and-frisk rates and overall police actions dropped “substantially” from their peak in 2011.

Our analysis of the NYPD Stop, Question and Frisk Report Database confirms this trend. The total number of stops fell from over 685,000 in 2011 to just under 23,000 in 2015. It is still the case, however, that the vast majority of people stopped are innocent, with only 20% of the stops made in 2015 resulting in an arrest or summons.




Furthermore, drops in overall numbers may not mean racial profiling in stop-and frisk has ended. The NYPD data still show huge racial disparities, with black and Hispanic New Yorkers consistently making up over 80% of the stopped population.


The ratio between black and white New Yorkers is even more staggering. When we compare the percent of the overall black and white population that was stopped between 2005 and 2014, the ratio remains disturbingly high. In 2014, black New Yorkers were 6.44 times more likely to be stopped by police than their white counterparts.


Decreasing the use of stop-and-frisk is still high on Bratton’s agenda. He compared the policies of his predecessor to chemotherapy, saying “making too many stops is harmful.” More controversial, however, is Bratton’s emphasis on broken-windows policing, a strategy that Mayor De Blasio has embraced. The key is to find balance, he says, “with the idea that it needs to be done fairly, impartially and done in a transparent way.”