by Ashlyn McCurly
Angry shouts from behind—“stop, don’t move, put your hands on your head”—cop badges, flashing lights, interrogation. Police officers pat you down for concealed weapons and go through your belongings. Regardless of your race, gender, or age, this is an invasion of privacy.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and The New York City Police Department created the Stop-and-Frisk Program with the goal of stopping crimes before they occurred. Officers maintained an active presence on the streets to prevent minor crimes from escalating into ones that are larger and more violent. If crime was stopped before it intensified, would murders, robberies, and assaults disappear altogether? Can New Yorkers now walk the streets of the city and feel safe because of a proactive police presence?
Maybe some New Yorkers feel safer due to this policy. But for Latinos and African-Americans, the racial profiling inherit in the Stop-and-Frisk procedures is unfair and discriminatory. From 2002 to 2011, African-Americans and Latinos made close to 90% of the people stopped. About 88% of these stops were of innocent residents.
The program has not significantly decreased the number of shootings. In 2002, there were 1,892 victims of shooting, and 97,296 stops. Nine years later, in 2011, there were 1,821 victims and 685,724 stops. Only 0.2% of the stops found guns on individuals, so the increased frequency of stops has done little to preempt shootings in New York City. The purpose of the program is to get dangerous people off the streets before a crime is committed; however, between 2009 and 2012, 6% of the 2.4 million stops led to arrests, with only a 3% conviction rate. Cumulative data indicates that this intrusive and humiliating practice is ineffective, resulting more in discrimination against minorities than in a reduction in crime.
Efficacy aside, Stop-and-Frisk clearly violates the 4th Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court ruling deeming the program unconstitutional is the correct democratic response to the actions of the New York City police. Officers stop innocent people without an objective suspicion of participation in wrongful actions. Observing the way someone walks, fidgets, changes direction, or even if he has a bulging pocket should not be suspicious enough activity to warrant an intrusive search.
Stop-and-Frisk also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which states no individual or group of people can be denied equal protection under the law. The practice unequally targets minorities through unreasonable searches, and violate the 4th Amendment right of equal protection in New York City. It is an invasion of private property, a violation of civil rights and illegal racial profiling by police officers.
While the Stop-and-Frisk policy was well intentioned, the consequences are unjust, and reforms need to be made to address the racial inequalities perpetuated by the program. One reform proposal would attach cameras to officer uniforms to record and monitor street stops. Or a separate, appointed inspector could be hired to monitor and manage the program to keep officers accountable to the law and to the citizens. This manager would be able to regulate the department and determine whether it was conducting fair and consistent procedures. The manager would also hold accountable those officers who act unconstitutionally.
The newly elected mayor, Bill de Blasio, is already looking into policies similar to these to restore community relations with the police, increase the use of efficient technologies, invest in the youth, strengthen the police profession and “improve access to justice.” He is calling for new NYPD leadership, pushing for a bill against racial profiling and increasing camera use and Shot Spotter technology. As the nation’s most populous city, New York sets an important precedent for urban governance. In regards to rectifying the injustice and inequity of his predecessor’s Stop and Frisk policy, Mayor De Blasio is on the right path.
Ashlyn McCurly is an MPP candidate at the Batten School, with a focus on urban policies, specifically transportation and housing. She will be graduating in May with undergraduate degrees in Urban and Environmental Planning, and Government. She has previously worked with the Charlotte Center City Partners, where she saw the interaction of public policy and urban design.