Back in 2013, New York’s stop and frisk policies were ended by federal judge Shira Scheindlin who ruled that the city had “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data. This has resulted in the disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of blacks and Hispanics in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.”
“Both statistical and anecdotal evidence showed that minorities are indeed treated differently than whites,” she wrote. In contrast to prevailing viewpoints, she found that “[o]nce a stop is made, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be subjected to the use of force than whites, despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with weapons or contraband.”
This differential in treatment, the judge ruled, has led to officers to routinely stop “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.”
Under stop and frisk, cops can stop, question and search people for contraband – even without the ordinary protections of the due process of law.
The LA Times reports this morning that, while the tactic began in the early part of the 2000s, it quickly expanded its scope. In 2011, police stopped more than 685,000 people in New York, but 88 percent of those stops yielded nothing and nearly 90 percent of those who were stopped were either black or Latino.
The Times writes, “Crime rates declined in New York City from its peak in the 1990s, but criminologists attribute that to a nationwide plunge in crime over two decades, not specifically to stop-and-frisk.”
The numbers on their surface are mixed at best. Crime went down from 2013 to 2014. However, it ticked back up in New York in 2015. “In 2015, murders were up 10.8% compared with last year but remain far below the peak levels of the mid-1990s. Violent crime overall was up 3.9%, while property crime declined by 2.6% compared with 2014.”
However, this year, New York has once again seen a drop in murders over what it had been in 2015.
The Washington Post ran an article today analyzing stop and frisk data since 2002 and comparing it to FBI data on crime rates – the Post found “almost no correction.”
Part of the problem is that the crime rate peaked in 1990 and began plunging well before Mayor Rudy Giuliani even took office. The Post writes, “Giuliani’s claim that he deserves credit for New York’s crime rate is also overblown. The plunge began before he took office, in parallel with a sharp national drop in crime levels. It continued after he left.”
Basically the analysis finds, “Crime in New York declined quickly after 1990 and has generally stayed low. There was a brief uptick last year at the same time as a further drop in the stop-and-frisk count, but in four of the past five years, levels of crime fell alongside the number of stop-and-frisks. Supporters of the policy often point specifically to gun crimes as a rationale for its use (since the policy often aimed at finding illegal firearms on suspects), but 2016 saw the fewest shootings during the first six months of the year in decades.”
An earlier study from the Brennan Center for justice found similarly. James Cullen writes in a piece republished in the Vanguard, “The stop-and-frisk era formally drew to a close in January 2014, when newly-elected Mayor de Blasio settled the litigation and ended the program.”
However, he notes, “In the years leading up to the program’s official end, stops had already begun to plummet, leading article after article to claim that a jump in crime was just around the corner. All of the hard work of previous mayors and police chiefs could be undone, some said.”
“Given this large scale effort, one might expect crime generally, and murder specifically, to increase as stops tapered off between 2012 and 2014. Instead, as shown in Figure 1, the number of murders fell while the number of stops declined. Murder also continued to drop after, as stop-and-frisk wound down from its 2011 peak. In fact, the biggest fall in murder rates occurred precisely when the number of stops also fell by a large amount — in 2013,” he continues.
Mr. Cullen concludes, “Statistically, no relationship between stop-and-frisk and crime seems apparent. New York remains safer than it was 5, 10, or 25 years ago.”
The problem with stop and frisk, and why it was ultimately abandoned is “that it was applied heavily to communities of color. More than half of those detained and searched, according to the NYCLU’s data, were black, and nearly a third were Latino.”
In short, stop and frisk’s impact on crime is debatable, at best, as the Times concludes. Its impact on minorities is not clear and it may have helped to contribute to the national climate that has resulted in a huge lack of trust by people of color, particularly African Americans, in the police.
There were claims last night, in the debate, that African American “communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before.”
The problem with that claim is that the crime rate has plummeted since 1990. In New York the murder rate went from 16 per 100,000 to less than four per 100,000 before ticking up to four in 2015. Violent crime went from about 1000 per 100,000 down to about 400 before ticking up to around 500 in 2015.
Never mind the glossing over of slavery and Jim Crow, there are few objective facts to back up the claim.
The Times points out, “The unemployment rate for African Americans was 8.1% in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; that rate has been steadily declining since it peaked at 16.8% in March 2010. Still, it remains higher than the national average, which was 4.9% in August.”
“The National Urban League, in its annual State of Black America report, found some gains for black Americans in recent generations. The percentage of African Americans obtaining bachelor’s degrees climbed from 6.6% in 1976 to 22.2% in 2016. Black life expectancy 40 years ago averaged 68.3 years. It is now 75.1 years.”
Even crime is more nuanced.
On Monday, new data from the Brennan Center revealed that “the recent increase in crime is modest and that the increased murder rate in Chicago will likely be responsible for half of the national increase in 2016.”
Do we want to go back to stop and frisk?
As the Washington Post concludes, “Chicago’s problem is serious and severe and needs to be addressed. History doesn’t suggest that stop-and-frisk is an effective way to address it — and it suggests that Rudy Giuliani may not have as many answers as he thinks.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting