The policing practice known as “stop and frisk” has become controversial in recent years. The policy was developed on an extensive scale by the New York City Police Department in the 1990s under the direction of Police Commissioner William Bratton. However, the same policy, or a comparable one, has been utilized in many other jurisdictions as well. “Stop and frisk” involves police officers stopping pedestrians on public streets deemed suspicious and physically frisking them in order to check for illegal firearms, illegal drugs, and other contraband that might be in their possession. The policy has been widely criticized as excessive, particularly by civil rights and civil liberties organizations.
It has been claimed by the New York Civil Liberties Union that more than four million people have been stopped by the New York City police in the last decade alone (NTCLU, 2014). The stopping and frisking of pedestrians are considered by some legal experts and civil rights advocates to be an unconstitutional violation of individual liberties and privacy rights. In particular, it has been persuasively argued that ethnic minorities, especially Hispanics and African-Americans, have been disproportionately targeted by the program, and that “stop and frisk” has resulted in the undue police harassment of minorities (Cottrell, 2013). However, defenders of the program have argued that stop and frisk has been very effective at curbing crime.
Supporters of stop and frisk will point out that serious crime was reduced by thirty to forty percent in New York City after the program was implemented (Taylor, 2012). Former Commissioner Bratton has gone even further and suggested that police work would largely be impossible without stop and frisk. According to Bratton, most police departments practice some version of stop and frisk, and that the program has done much to reduce crime (Young & Hobson, 2014). The theory of policing behind stop and frisk is what is called the broken windows theory (Sterbenz, 2013). This theory holds that the most effective way to prevent more serious forms of crime is to exhibit zero tolerance towards smaller crimes such as vandalism, trespassing, public urination, and the like. The presence of windows broken by vandals in a neighborhood only encourages more vandals. The tolerance of petty crime will attract more serious criminals, and escalate overall crime rates.
The hypothesis of this research proposal is that stop and frisk does not result in a significant reduction of overall crime rates (Drum, 2013). Thus far, there have been two comprehensive studies on the impact of stop and frisk towards the purpose of reducing crime. Research conducted by Dennis Smith of New York University and Robert Purtell of the State University of New York at Albany indicates that the frequent or pervasive use of stop and frisk does not result in the reduction of the rate of serious crimes such as grand larceny, rape, or felonious assault and that the decreases in the rates for homicide, robbery, burglary, and auto theft in such jurisdictions were negligible (Matthews, 2013). However, the study conducted by Smith and Purtell is thus far unpublished and has yet to be subject to peer review.
Another study conducted by Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri and Robert Fornango of Arizona State University presents an even more skeptical assessment of stop and frisk (Matthews, 2013). This study, which has been both peer-reviewed and formally published, indicates that the impact of stop and frisk on crimes such as robbery and burglary is minimal to non-existent. The paper by Rosenfeld and Fornango also indicated that the longer the period of time that crime rates were measured against rates at which pedestrians were stopped, the degree of correlation between stopping and frisking and reductions in crime rates were even smaller. The findings of these studies indicate that stop and frisk likely has little to no effect on overall rates of serious crime. Indeed, there is some evidence that such police practices as stop and frisk may have the effect of actually increasing overall crime rates, or at least undermining the ability of the police to actually solve crimes and apprehend perpetrators.
A study by Fagan, Tyler, and Meares indicates that stop and frisk has the effect of undermining the legitimacy of the police in communities where crime rates are often the highest. These communities include a disproportionately high number of minorities who often view the police with suspicion and are more likely to have been harassed or discriminated against by law enforcement at some point (Rayman, 2010). If members of a particular community do not trust the police and are unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement, then the ability of the police to effectively control crime in that area will be severely compromised (Plank, 2013). Local residents will not be willing to come forward with information concerning crimes and will be guarded when asked for information by the police.
Further research into the question of the relationship between stop and frisk and overall crime rates would require a more specific approach than merely comparing rates at which pedestrians are stopped and frisked, and rates of crime (Eterno, 2012). Other variables need to be accounted for. These include the presence and effectiveness of neighborhood watch and community crime prevention efforts, the demographics of particular communities such as the average age of the local residents, rates of substance abuse, absentee parenting, unemployment rates, and the quality of schools and housing. These are all issues that affect crime rates.
There are many things to consider in the argument on the effectiveness of stop and frisk- did the crimes rate in a specific area decline because of stop and frisk, or more aggressively policing generally? Or did crime rates fall because of a reduction in unemployment? Did a reduction in crime rates follow the increased use of stop and frisk? Or were effective community crime prevention efforts that preceded the implementation of stop and frisk the pivotal factor in the overall decline in rates of crime? This kind of holistic study would be necessary in order to more effectively analyze the relationship between more aggressive policing, including the use of stop and frisk, and a decline in the general rate at which serious crimes are being committed.
Cottrell, J. (2013, January 23). ‘Stop and frisk’ may be working-but is it racist? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/stop-and-frisk-may-be-working-but-is-it-racist/267417/
Drum, K. (2013, August 12). Did stop-and-frisk reduce crime in New York City? Mother Jones. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/08/stop-frisk-new-york-lead-crime
Eterno, J. (2012, June 18). Policing by the numbers. New York Times. p. A23.
Matthews, D. (2013, August 20). Ray Kelly says stop and frisk saves live. There’s no good evidence for that. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/20/ray-kelly-says-stop-frisk-saves-lives-theres-no-good-evidence-for-that/
New York Civil Liberties Union (2014). Stop-and-frisk campaign: About the issue. Retrieved from http://www.nyclu.org/issues/racial-justice/stop-and-frisk-practices
Plank, E. (2013, August 12). Stop and frisk is not only racist-it doesn’t work. PolicyMic.Com. Retrieved from http://www.policymic.com/articles/59243/stop-And frisk-is-not-only-racist-it- doesn-t-work
Rayman, G. (2010, June 15). NYPD tapes 4: The whistleblower, Adrian Schoolcraft: He wanted his bosses to know about NYPD misconduct. So they put him in a mental ward. Village Voice. Retrieved from http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-06-15/news/adrian-school-craft-nypd-tapes-whistleblower
Sterbenz, C. (2013, August 20). How New York City became safe again. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/criticism-for-giulianis-broken-windows-theory-2013-8
Taylor, K. (2012, June 10). Stop-and-frisk policy ‘saves lives,’ mayor tells black congregation. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/11/nyregion/at-black-church-in-brooklyn-bloomberg-defends-stop-and-frisk-policy.html?_r=0
Young, R. & Hobson, J. (2014, February 25). Bill Bratton: You can’t police without stop and frisk. HereandNow.WBUR.Com. Retrieved from http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/02/25/bill-bratton-nypd