Eye on the Courts: The Startling Acknowledgement that Stop-and-Frisk is All About Racial Quotas


For years, critics of the controversial New York stop-and-frisk program have argued that it was about racial profiling, with officers using the tactic on racial minorities in a fishing expedition, hoping to turn up evidence of crimes with no basis for stopping the individual other than the color of their skin.

Advocates filed a federal class action lawsuit against the New York Police Department and the city of New York, contending that the NYPD practice constitutes racial profiling and arguing that stop-and-frisks violate the constitutional rights of individuals against unlawful search and seizure.

The suit contends, “These NYPD practices have led to a dramatic increase in the number of suspicion-less stop-and-frisks per year in the city, with the majority of stops in communities of color.”

They cite a report by Dr. Jeffrey Fagan which was released on December 12, 2012, which found, “Blacks and Latinos are significantly more likely to be stopped than Whites. Overall, Blacks and Latinos constitute 84% of the stops, a far higher percentage than their proportion of the city’s population.”

While defenders of the policy may contend that blacks and Latinos also make up the majority of defendants in the criminal justice system, the study found, “Even after controlling for crime, local social conditions and the concentration of police officers in particular areas of the City, Blacks and Latinos are significantly more likely to be stopped than Whites. This is true at both the neighborhood and the individual level.”

“Analysis of the information recorded by police officers themselves in their stop and frisk reports indicates that more than 95,000 stops lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion and thus violated the Fourth Amendment,” the report continued.

“The suit seeks to prove that the nation’s largest police department has demonstrated a widespread and systemic pattern of unconstitutional stops that disproportionately target minorities,” the Guardian of London reported on Friday.

Last Monday, the trial opened in federal court, where officials continued to deny the existence of racial quotas while the suit focuses on the credibility of the plaintiffs and their allegations of racial bias on the part of the department.

“The quota allegations are a sideshow,” city attorney Heidi Grossman said in opening statements Monday as reported in the Guardian of London. “Crime drives where police officers go,” she added. “Not race.”

Mayor Bloomberg and other supporters argue that stop-and-frisk is a tool that is essential to law enforcement, it saves lives and removes guns from the street.  Without the policy in place, they argue, the city would descend into violence not seen in decades and the people of color, those that critics say are victims of the program, would bear the brunt of the violent crime.

“By law, the NYPD is permitted to stop a person if it has a reasonable suspicion to believe the person is about to commit a crime, is in the process of committing a crime, or has just finished committing a crime,” the Guardian reports. “An officer can frisk a person – patting them outside the clothing – if they have reason to believe the person is an armed threat. An officer can search someone – reach inside clothing – if they have encountered an object they have reason to believe is a weapon.”

However, critics argue that these conditions go unmet.

“[The NYPD] has laid siege to black and Latino communities” through “arbitrary, unnecessary and unconstitutional harassment,” said attorney Darius Charney in opening remarks reported in Common Dreams.

“At the end of the day, it’s about quotas,” added Jonathan Moore, another lawyer for the plaintiffs. “That’s why there is such an epidemic in these communities of people getting stopped and frisked – because the police are told to get numbers […] They are interested in arrests, summons and 250s,” he said.

While the trial began with four African-American men describing the stops they experienced, the real bombshell came when the attorneys shifted their focus from the street stops to internal NYPD policies.

Wrote Common Dreams, “New York police officers testifying before a federal court this week said that racist quotas imposed by ranking officers are behind the police department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, confirming years of accusations made by civil rights and community advocates that the department’s tactics disproportionately target minorities.”

While one might have the tendency to dismiss this as hyperbolic rhetoric, the testimony from Officer Adhyl Polanco has to be alarming to anyone with a reasonably open mind about this subject.

He testified starting on Tuesday that “there’s a difference between” the department’s policies on paper and “what goes on out there,” on the city’s streets.

The Guardian reports, “Polanco testified that in 2009, officers in his Bronx precinct were expected to issue 20 summons and make one arrest per month. If they did not they would risk denied vacation, being separated from longtime partners, undesirable assignments and other consequences.

“Polcano claimed it was not uncommon for patrol officers who were not making quotas to be forced to “drive the sergeant” or “drive the supervisor”, which meant driving around with a senior officer who would find individuals for the patrol officer to arrest or issue a summons to, at times for infractions the junior officer did not observe.”

“We were handcuffing kids for no reason,” Officer Polanco said.

The real bombshell followed.  Officer Polanco claimed that he became increasingly disturbed by what he was witnessing in his precinct so he began to secretly record his roll call meetings.

Reported the Guardian, in a  recording played for the court, a man that Officer Polanco claimed was a NYPD captain told officers: “The summons is a money-generating machine for the city.”

Officer Polanco was not alone in doing this.  Bronx Police Officer Pedro Serrano also recorded comments that were played in court.

Reported the Guardian, “Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack was heard telling Serrano he needed to stop ‘the right people, the right time, the right location.’ When asked what he believed McCormack meant Serrano told the court: ‘He meant blacks and Hispanics.’ “

Later in the tape, Inspector McCormack says: “I have no problem telling you this … male blacks. And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem [to] tell you this, male blacks 14 to 21.”

The Guardian continued, “Serrano claims his attempts to raise concerns about stop and frisk and the existence of quotas have been met with retaliation, including fellow officers vandalizing his locker with stickers of rats.”

“As a Hispanic living in the Bronx, I have been stopped many times,” Officer Serrano said. “I just want to do the right thing.”

The Village Voice has the full recorded exchange between Officer Serrano and Inspector McCormack.  In the meantime, the Nation reported posted audio on March 19, 2013.

They report, “Audio obtained by The Nation confirms that New York City’s police union cooperated with the NYPD in setting arrest quotas for the department’s officers. According to some officers and critics of quotas, the practice has played a direct role in increasing the number of stop-and-frisk encounters since Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to office.”

“Patrolmen who spoke to The Nation explained that the pressure from superiors to meet quota goals has caused some officers to seek out or even manufacture arrests to avoid department retaliation,” they report.

Based on this evidence, along with the statistical analysis, it appears that the NYPD may have very little to stand on.  However, there are five more weeks of trial and the defense has yet to put on their case.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. medwoman


    I believe that the adjective “startling” was meant to modify the word “acknowledgement”, not to express surprise that this is about racial quotas.

  2. Themis


    The startling part is that the audio confirms it’s about the quotas.

    New York spent over $1 million last year on arresting people with small amounts of drugs. That is what police tend to find when they use stop and frisk. Since stop and frisk is only used in the minority sections of New York and not in Manhattan, where they would find tourists, white and/or rich people with small amounts of drugs it’s always been known that this was a racial tactic. It’s nice to know there are police officers that are not afraid to come out and say so.

  3. davisite4

    “Racist quotas” makes it sound as though the officers are being told to arrest X% of a certain race, Y% of another, etc. Is there really any evidence of that? Or are they being told to make quota, and then because of racism (conscious or unconscious), are disproproptionately targeting people of certain races? Both are bad, but the first is *really* bad, and seems somewhat unlikely, at least as a matter of policy.

  4. biddlin

    The NYPD brass and even the mayor’s office have been giving the wink and nudge on this issue for years.
    BTW, while I was in NYC last summer,one evening I went to a popular Manhattan cafe with friends, and while we were observing a well known music producer tooting cocaine off the back of his hand at a nearby table, through the window we could see, on the street just outside, a young black man was being busted for a crack pipe and presumably a small quantity of rock cocaine after a pat down . Neither scene seemed unusual to the natives .

  5. J.R.

    This may not be as clear cut as presented. Indeed, it is being called slander.

    See[quote]New York Times Slanders NYPD Officer, Shamefully Distorts Stop-and-Frisk Policy[/quote]

  6. Frankly

    Yes balance. This story is not balanced at all. Because if it was it would at least acknowledge the drop in gun violence in New York as a result of stop and frisk.

    The main problem with stop and frisk is that it provides a working solution for reducing gun violence, and that creates a problem for those that want to ban guns.

    Apparently it is better have more dead people by gun so that it strengthens the emotive case for banning guns.

    I am venturing a guess that Officer Polcano is a disgruntled employee. I have to say to the anti-stop and frisk people (generally all pro-gun ban people)… is that all you got?

    [quote] Mr. Bloomberg said Sunday that racial profiling was banned by the Police Department, and that “we will not tolerate it.” He added, however, that the city would not “deny reality” in order to stop different groups according to their relative proportions in the population. (He used the examples of men versus women and young versus old people, rather than white versus black or Hispanic.)

    “If we stopped people based on census numbers, we would stop many fewer criminals, recover many fewer weapons and allow many more violent crimes to take place,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

    “We will not do that,” he added. “We will not bury our heads in the sand.”[/quote]
    Bloomberg was just finding a more sensitive way of stating the obvious fact that young Hispanic and black males are the demographic much more likely to be carrying. They are also more likely to be wearing the kind of baggy clothing that more easily conceals a gun.

    Initially the NY cops were finding guns on about one in 600 stops. Now it is closer to 1 in 1000 because fewer people are carrying guns because of stop and frisk. What is the value of that 1 in 600 or 1 in 1000 guns and their potential shooters being taken off the streets? What is the value of the guns not carried being prevented from use in gun violence?

    I wish I could survey the number of people that want to outlaw Bloomberg’s successful stop and frisk program and the number that supported Bloomberg’s attempt to implement a ban on large sodas. I bet we would find mostly the same people. I would welcome a justification for these two positions from anyone owning them.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    “Because if it was it would at least acknowledge the drop in gun violence in New York as a result of stop and frisk.”

    It’s my commentary for the week on courts. It wasn’t intended to be balanced.

    I don’t buy into the drop in gun violence as a result, when crime has been down across the country regardless of treatment. But even if it is, at what cost? I don’t see anyway stop and frisk passes constitutional muster, to me it looks like an illegal search, bolstered by the recordings.

  8. jimt

    I’m a bit puzzled by the title of this article; as I understand it the police are trying to reach an arrest quota; not some kind of a racial quota. Why have more minorities been stopped? What about taking a look at the criteria the police are using to stop people–might include items such as baggy clothing, or groups of young men walking around together, etc.–I doubt they have race-based criteria.

    There is not enough information in David’s article to conclude that the police are trying to achieve some race-based arrest quota. Maybe, maybe not. Why not include an additional statistic of the proportion of people (by race) stopped that were illegally carrying drugs or a weapon? If a much higher proportion of whites that were stopped were carrying drugs or weapons; this would indicate the need to stop more whites. If the converse were true, this would indicate the need to stop more minorities.

  9. medwoman

    “I doubt they have race based criteria”

    What I doubt is that the publish or admit to race based criteria. I do not find it difficult to believe that they have it.
    My evidence ? it was until quite recently that possession of the same amount of crack cocaine vs the same amount of powder led to wildly different sentencing. Crack “just happened ” to be the form of choice for blacks while powder ” just happened to be the form preferred by whites.
    Coincidense ?

    This kind of bias whether race or class is rampant in our society on a number of levels. As Elizabeth Warren pointed out during the recent Senate inquiry into money laundering for drug cartels. Millions and millions of dollars laundered for cartels, even after warnings were issued and not one individual convicted or sentenced. Yet, get stopped and frisked for walking down the street with enough crack for personal use found on a stop
    Made for no discernible suspicion and you are likely to do time. Then, on the individual level, how likely is it that an affluent business man with his stash of cocaine in his briefcase or suit pocket will be subjected to the same stop and frisk and thus found to have the same drug as the same age but less polished exterior who happens to live in or be visiting a less affluent neighborhood. Same crime. Likelhood of a very different outcome.

  10. Nemesis

    The problem with most “news” media is the feeling that every story needs to be balanced. Real news stories are not balanced and they shouldn’t be. Police and politicians always spin things to get their story out. Newspapers used to actually investigate-that’s how we used to be able to find out things like “stop and frisk”.

    When one type of person is being singled out, whether for baggy clothes, walking in groups, the color of their skin or anything else that is discrimination and we should all fight against it because it is plain wrong.

    Thanks David for bringing this story to light and to be honest who cares what the title says or implies, you would think people would have something more interesting to comment about.

  11. jimt


    Yes, good point about crack vs powder cocaine sentencing laws.
    Though as I understand it, crack, which is inhaled and absorbed thru the lungs, can be immediately introduced into the blood in large amounts, whereas with powdered cocaine, absorbed thru nasal mucus membranes, there is not such a spike in blood levels of cocaine. I believe that there has been much more of a problem with overdosing and medical emergencies with cocaine in the crack rather than powder form; though I’m not entirely certain of this.

    Also I agree with your point about the well-coiffed businessperson not being as likely to be stopped as a down-and-out drug user or someone without money for nice clothes. I would much rather see these debates framed in terms of economic class rather than race–such discussions need not provoke “class warfare” any more than discussions on race provoke race wars; its my contention that much of what are talked about in terms of racial discrimination is more accurately viewed in terms of advantages of the ‘haves’ over the ‘have nots’ and the widening gap between rich and poor in the USA.

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