Peter Vallone Jr. (L), who supports stop and frisk, with New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly in this file photo. (William Alatriste)
NEW YORK—Stop and frisk is working—or it’s not, depending on whom you ask.
With New York City’s murder rate at historic lows during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration—and recovery of guns from the stops—advocates of the controversial policy said that there is clear evidence that stop and frisk is the driving force behind the safe city.
“There’s no greater evidence that stop and frisk works than the fact that our murder rate is the lowest in the country, and the fact that we’re getting fewer guns is clear evidence that fewer guns are getting carried,” said New York City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. Thursday.
Vallone said that conversations with criminals, prosecutors, and police officers are supporting evidence that fewer guns are being carried, forcing criminals to hide guns in places such as mailboxes and alleyways.
“The cops just last night I was speaking with told me that when they get a gun, they know it’s about to be used now; because people don’t just walk around anymore unless they’re about to use that gun because they’re afraid of getting stopped,” said Vallone, speaking at a forum on public safety near Washington Square held by the publication City & State.
Yet not everyone agrees. Councilman Jumaane Williams said that he does not understand the correlation drawn between fewer guns found and stop and frisk working. Top officers at the New York Police Department (NYPD) said that fewer guns means that it is working, but if there were more guns, the same argument—that stop and frisk is necessary—would be made, according to Williams.
New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams (3rd L) at a press conference in early 2012, protesting stop and frisk. (Amal Chen/The Epoch Times)
“Either way, we have to do more [stop and frisk], so that really doesn’t make any sense,” said Williams, an outspoken critic of stop and frisk.
Further, although the murder rate in New York City is low, that cannot necessarily be attributed to stop and frisk, said Williams.
“I don’t know how stop, question, and frisks leads to less murders if the shootings have stayed the same,” he said. “That means people are surviving being shot, so we keep being wedded and keep giving credit to stop, question, and frisk for everything.”
Stop, question, and frisk (usually called stop and frisk) is when police officers stop people they think are suspicious—around 90 percent blacks and Latinos—and frisk them, searching for guns, drugs, or other things. The practice is said by some to have helped turn New York City into a metropolis famed for a multitude of nefarious characters into one where criminals are afraid to roam around with anything illegal because they might be stopped.
Officers are required to fill out forms after stops, on which they record why they stopped someone. Reasons for stopping include the selections “fits description” and “suspicious bulge/object.”
Stop and Frisk
2009: New Yorkers were stopped by the police 581,168 times.
510,742 (88%) were totally innocent
310,611 (55%) were Black
180,055 (32%) were Latino
53,601 (10%) were White
289,602 (50%) were aged 14–24
2010: New Yorkers were stopped by the police 601,285 times.
518,849 (86%) were totally innocent
315,083 (54%) were Black
189,326 (33%) were Latino
54,810 (9%) were White
295,902 (49%) were aged 14–24
2011: New Yorkers were stopped by the police 685,724 times.
605,328 (88%) were totally innocent
350,743 (53%) were Black
223,740 (34%) were Latino
61,805 (9%) were White
341,581 (51%) were aged 14–24
2012: New Yorkers were stopped by the police 533,042 times.
473,300 (89%) were totally innocent
286,684 (55%) were Black
166,212 (32%) were Latino
50,615 (10%) were White
Source: New York Civil Liberties Union via NYPD
2009: Not available
2010: Not available
* Through Dec. 27, 2012
Source: New York City Mayor’s office
Groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights have challenged the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk, alleging that it is racist and creates rifts in communities. Multiple lawsuits are in court right now trying to force a halt to the practice altogether.
Others at the forum also believe that stop and frisk—while possibly not being applied precisely enough—is good, crediting the practice for helping to make New York City safe.
Daniel Donovan, Staten Island district attorney, said that stop and frisk has helped turn the city into a safe place, and the safety helps attract businesses, tourists, and new residents.
“This is the driving force for so many things that are great about the city,” he said, referring to the overall safety.
Donovan also believes that stop and frisk is not, in most cases, racially motivated.
“One thing every police officer—at least in New York City—hates, is doing more paperwork,” he said. “So we think that the overwhelming majority of New York City police officers would rather not stop somebody.”
When police officers cannot “articulate the reason” for stopping someone—regardless of whether they recovered guns or not—the district attorney’s offices around the city will not prosecute the case, according to Donovan.
Williams does think that the stops are racist in nature, pointing to the figure that 87 percent of New Yorkers stopped in 2012—452,286 in total—were black or Latino.
“Most of the stops that have happened are because of ‘furtive movements,’” said Williams. “I’m not exactly sure what ‘furtive movements’ are.”
Vallone said the police decide who to stop more based on who is being listed as the perpetrators by victims, regardless of race.
“The way you determine whether these stops are appropriate—one of the best ways criminal justice experts come up with—is to match the stops against open complaint reports, see who civilians have described as the criminals, and match those numbers up against who police are stopping. Because police have to stop who they reasonably believe to be committing a crime, not who they believe to be a woman, or an Asian, or black, or white,” said Vallone. “That’s the law, and that’s how it has to happen.”
“Is that how it always happens? Of course not,” he added. Police statistics show that most shootings in the city are committed by black or Hispanic persons—94 percent in first the six months of 2011, for instance. Vallone also said that he thinks stop and frisk should be looked at constantly, and he thinks that the number of stops in the past has been too high.
George Kelling, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who introduced the “broken windows” theory in 1982 along with colleague James Wilson, also spoke Thursday. The theory—police should focus on minor offenses such as graffiti—has shaped New York City public safety policy across the board including on the streets and in the subways.
Kelling said that he favors stop and frisk, but that it does not work across the board. “I am certain that stop and frisk is powerful in some neighborhoods, I am certain it’s a waste of time in others,” he said.
Kelling also said that the NYPD crime database CompStat, which keeps statistics by locale, has helped decentralize policy, so decisions can be made on a more neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. He added that it is important for police to work together with communities.
“Police have to learn how to say ‘no,’” he said, “because there’s only so far that you can go in terms of maintaining order and establishing standards within communities with a democratic setting. So it seems to me that you’re constantly negotiating with the community to establish the standards of behavior that are considered acceptable, and then you’re acting within the law as well.”
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter