As the Floyd v. New York trial continues in federal court, we hear various rationales about why the policy’s effectiveness trumps the widespread erosion (if not clear violation) of civil rights. The primary excuse for wholesale stopping of pedestrians, frequently based on flimsy suspicion (evidenced by the low rate of uncovering criminal activity), is that it reduces crime.
Commissioner Kelly has stated that “deterrence” is the most successful outcome of the policy, even if 95% of the stops fail to generate an arrest. State Senator Adams (retired NYPD Captain) signed a sworn affidavit in the Floyd lawsuit claiming that Kelly’s goal is to target young Black and Latino men so they will be afraid to carry weapons. Kelly denies it. However, 90% of the stops are of young Black and Latino men. How this impacts all crimes, including the prevention of a few murders, requires several leaps in the chain of causation. Furthermore, the claim that more suspects are Black and Latino is hollow. The majority of crimes reported do not include a suspect’s race.
Statistically speaking, finding petty amounts of drugs (the most common form of “success” under Stop and Frisk) creates higher crime rates. Yet again, with Stop and Frisk yielding so few “crimes” per area, these stats alone are not likely to drive crime rates. Leaving aside the many factors that Mayor Bloomberg tends to ignore, let us accept the premise that police activity is driving the reduction of crime.
Two Types of Policing, and Two Types of Results
When comparing the ten precincts with the lowest percentage of Black and Latino residents vs. the ten precincts with the highest percentage of Black and Latino residents, the numbers are startling. The White neighborhoods are being stopped on an average of 4%, and their crime is dropping 42%. The Communities of Color are being stopped 16%, and crime is dropping 22%.
Four times the hassle, and half the results. And it is even worse than that. Thousands of residents in the Financial District and Tribeca, for example, hardly represent the millions of people subjected to possible stops in that district. If police actually stopped 5% of all the people who travel through the tip of Manhattan, it would outnumber the residents of that precinct. Meanwhile, residents in places like Hunts Point bear the entire brunt of the police activity, as tourists and workers aren’t flooding the precinct.
Aggressive Policing will stop the violence?
Detective Dean Elmore, an NYPD community outreach worker, justified the Stop-and-Frisk policy, adding that crime witnesses could do a better job. “You have to be more specific,” Elmore said. “Be particular with your descriptions. If you’re not particular, almost everbody’s being stopped.” In calling it a “necessary evil,” he misleads from the fact that the majority of stops are not in response to a particular suspect being searched for.
How Accurate are NYPD’s “Reasonable Suspicions?”
The arrest and weapons yield is comparable to random motor vehicle checkpoints. Randomly stopping vehicles was declared a 4th Amendment violation in City of Indianapolis v Edmond. Similarly, the Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Texas (1979) that police need a reasonable suspicion to detain a pedestrian and demand identification. Unfortunately, where fear is utilized for an expansion of police powers, the judiciary will be called upon to retain civil liberties.
Black and Latino people are more likely to be frisked, however…
By comparing the Most Frisked against the Least Frisked precincts, we look at how the police decisions to go the next level (“pat down”) has as an impact on crime. In places where the lowest percentage of stops result in a frisk, crime reduction is far greater than in places where people are most habitually frisked. It just so happens that the least frisked locations (Kipps Bay, Theatre District, Brooklyn Heights) are heavily populated by White residents, as opposed to the most-frisked areas. Consider also that the crime rates are based on census data, not foot-traffic. Thus, a place such as the Theatre District, common site of purse-snatching and shoplifting, the rates are akin to being struck by lightning.
Is this a chicken-egg situation? Crime is going down, so police do not feel the need to frisk? Or are they not finding crime because they are not stopping and frisking residents? But if the police are not frisking these precincts where crime is dropping, this means (1) Forces other than Stop-and-Frisk are driving crime rates, and/or (b) Criminal activity in the White-majority neighborhoods is going undetected. Might this mean that many of the people in these less-aggressively policed areas are actually carrying contraband and not being frisked? It just so happens that stops of White people yield a higher percentage of contraband, indicating the NYPD profiling of White pedestrians is far higher than of Black and Latino people.
Remember also how many crimes are “possession” crimes, with no victim filing a report. The typical criminal activity being uncovered is possession of drugs, open container of alcohol, trespassing (such as on public housing), and items (other than guns) considered as weapons.
Raising children in an environment of tension
There is a social cost of nurturing our youth in neighborhoods where the public face of the government (police) is seen as an opposing force. Youth develop into adults with arrests on their record, even when dismissed. Adults have records for things not enforced in other parts of the country. In Anytown, USA, people wouldn’t dream of police routinely putting kids “up against it” to check their pockets. These different realities informs our view of what is truly going on.
At least 110 Black women and men were killed by law enforcement and security personnel over a six month period in 2012, and nine Black people killed by the NYPD. We need to consider the direction of American race relations. Overall, only 33% of the killings occurred in the course of police investigating actual criminal activity, while 22% were reportedly exhibiting severe mental illness, and 40 of the victims were not even alleged to have a weapon.
There are some people in power who obviously are benefitting by the criminalization of a large segment of America. Their economic interests, or political power, is rooted in millions of people being the internal “enemy” fueling the court and prison process. Furthermore, in a nation grossly lacking in jobs, it is useful to put a “mark” on large group of people. Those with the mark are then barred from a moral soapbox to stand upon, to demand economic reforms that are American labor intensive, rather than purely profit driven.
We will either sink or swim together as a nation. For 75% of American history we had two separate experiences, Black and White, in policy and in practice. It proved to be unsustainable and combustible. Continuing the retreat back into our past simply will not do.
- What They Don’t Tell You About NYC Crime Data (unprison.com)