Southern Brooklyn

Op-Ed: Stop-And-Frisk In Need Of Repair-And-Reform

An anti-stop-and-frisk rally. Source: Think Progress

BETWEEN THE LINES: After a violent post-July 4th weekend and more violence in the ensuing days, the debate over the New York City Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy has figuratively become hotter than the summer’s heat waves.

Despite the recent flurry of shootings, the last four years have been the safest in New York’s history, according to a mayoral spokesman.

While the statistics are alarming — up from 47 shootings last year to 62 this year for the July 6-8 period — last year’s numbers seem uncommonly high, but I don’t recall anyone being upset when nearly four dozen people were shot in 2011.

Lots of statistics have been bandied about from both sides trying to defend or attack the stop-and-frisk argument. Some have even attributed the recent violence spike to the hotter-than-normal summer we’ve been experiencing. Historically, violence typically spikes during heat waves.

While the recent escalation of violence certainly has no particular motive, the NYPD should instigate changes to stop-and-frisk before the courts force it on them. As it is, federal and state court judges have recently criticized the NYPD, citing, among other violations, the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against “unreasonable searches,” as well as “reasonable suspicion” — however those vague terms are interpreted by officers on the mean streets.

A Federal District Court judge recently blamed NYPD brass for its policy of “establishing and demanding increased levels of stop-and-frisks.” That statement is supported by former cops who have revealed that — like traffic ticket quotas, which the NYPD has never acknowledged — precinct commanders also strongly recommend stop-and-frisk quotas for officers.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has criticized the courts’ rulings and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has vowed to continue the controversial policy, which he views as a deterrent to potential crime. Kelly said, “You hear all the time from people who don’t like stop-and-frisk. But you know what people really hate in New York City, and always have? Guns.”

But, the actual numbers don’t gibe with Kelly’s statement and demonstrate the ineffectiveness of stop-and-frisk. According to various media reports, of the nearly 700,000 stop-and-frisks last year, 90 percent were neither ticketed nor arrested.

Using NYPD data, the New York City Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that in 685,000 stop-and-frisk incidents last year, the police recovered a weapon in less than two percent of the cases (a total of 780) when they actually conducted a frisk, and only six percent of stops led to arrests.

That’s a negligible result for violating New Yorkers’ rights.

The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable search and seizures” without “probable cause” and the lesser standard of “reasonable suspicion,” established in a 1968 Supreme Court decision, applies to the New York Police Department, but it seems New York’s Finest, more often than not, exercise the policy as a justification, regardless of cause.

Unless the NYPD can rationalize the excessive number of stop-and-frisks with trivial results, what they are doing is illegal and any violation of the law is criminal. When law enforcement breaches the law to enforce it, it is time to restrain that authority.

Weather notwithstanding, the debate over the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy has heated up. Perhaps it’s time for police officials to sit down with responsible leaders and members of the neighborhoods where the strategy occurs most frequently to discuss and/or defend their grievances. If not, the atmosphere of mistrust between minorities and police could reach a boiling point that could be difficult to calm.

As Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote about problematic searches in the 1968 Supreme Court case, Terry vs. Ohio, “It is a serious intrusion upon the sanctity of the person, which may inflict great indignity and arouse strong resentment, and is not to be undertaken lightly.”

The city’s dramatic drop in crime over the last 20 years reflects first-rate police strategy by a department that has lost thousands of officers. While the controversial program may have benefits, it does not give police officers sovereignty to stop, question and search anyone they consider suspicious — whatever that means — since it appears to be racially motivated.

In the vigilant pursuit to contain and investigate crime, police should never overstep the bounds of their authority. Furthermore, in order to preserve a constructive relationship with the communities they serve, courtesy and respect are important ingredients of their vocation.

Stop-and-frisk abuses must be curtailed and its tactics improved. Police cannot be allowed to stop an individual whenever they don’t like the way that person looks. Though highly controversial, at best, stop-and-frisk may foil potential crimes, but, at worst, it is a clear violation of personal freedom.

First and foremost, even in the dogged pursuit of public safety, individual liberty must never be compromised out of fear.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  1. “Stop-and-frisk abuses must be curtailed and its tactics improved. Police cannot be allowed to stop an individual whenever they don’t like the way that person looks. Though highly controversial, at best, stop-and-frisk may foil potential crimes, but, at worst, it is a clear violation of personal freedom.”

    Mr. Friedman has absolutely no data at all to back this assertion. Where is there any instance he can cite in which a police officer said he stopped someone because he didn’t like the way a person looked? As yt tactics being improved, we’re all ears. But other than sounding lovely Mr. Freidman offers nothing remotely susbtantive.

  2. Crime has been dropping over the last 20 years in many places that do not engage in practices like “stop and frisk”. And certainly this is not the only means that have been used by the NYPD and other agencies to make the city safer. There is always a question of what actually has the greatest effect, but we should never place public safety over the rights of law-abiding citizens to be free from unwarranted intrusions on their privacy and sense of well-being.

  3. “Where is there any instance…in which a police officer stopped someone because he didn’t like the way a person looked?

    It happens all the time. It’s called profiling. It’s warranted if someone fits the description whom they are looking for who just committed a crime, but not in other instances. I was once stopped because I had an old shabby car. The police wanted to give tickets to KCC students and thought I was one because of my car. They accused me of not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign from one block away where it was not possible to tell if I had stopped completely or not. I happened to be wearing a suit and tie and obviously was not a student. I acted like I was important and that they were needlessly delaying me. Not only did I not receive a summons, I received an apology for being stopped. Now what do you think would have happened if I was younger, dressed differently, or was a different skin color? Would I have received a summons instead of an apology?

  4. I will grant Lisanne’s point about crime going down for reasons that have little to do with what ever the police do or do not do. We had a drop in population(Leavitt and Dubner’s book “Freakanomics” discusses this at length linking liberalized abortion and dropping crime), we had an increased rate of incarceration(it takes the NY time to not understand that link) and we moved from the insanity of crack to dope fiends switching to depressing (in more ways than one) heroin as their drug of choice. NYPD did in fact improve how and when theiy deployed officers based on crime data. But we are in fact now at a point of diminishing returns.

    But as to profiling NYPD today is argaubly more ethnically diverse than it has ever been. The myth of evil whitey the racist cop is now that. It’s not 1971 any more. You story is completely antecdotal and while it may be true your perspective is entirely self-serving. Your account is the definition of subjective. You offer nothing more substantive than Mr. Friedman. There’s nothing herre thart constitutes profiling. Cool story, bro!But you like Mr. Friedman have no problem stating something as a given without backing it up with any evidence.

    I have serious problems with how Commissioner Kelly runs his police department. But when he says supposed community leaders refuse to discuss the tolerance for gum violence in inner city neighorhoods he is in fact speaking the truth. H’e on firm ground that like Mr. Friedman those who keep blaming the cops for this insanity have a very hard time looking in the mirror.

    Here’s a fun fact-

    “Ninety-six percent of our shooting victims are people of color.” Raymond W. Kelly

  5. Check, which had to get a court order to open the NYPD files on stop-and-frisks, which, in most cases, officers reported they made such stops because an individual made a “furtive movement.” Most cops probably have no idea what furtive means, much less a substantial reason for suspicious behavior.
    Nevertheless, I thank you for your feedback and for reading my column.

  6. Police have and have always had a common law right of inquiry. Despite it being logged in and documented, generating a “stop and frisk” report, not every street encounter between NYPD and civilians involves an actual  frisk. Gran you many police officers are not as good as you would like in articulating reasons for those encounters nor more involved stops under Terry v. Ohio. But again the NYCLU offers very little of substance besides blanket unsupported statements like yours. It’s always Bull Connor in 1950 Alabama, and that is simply ridiculous. As a city we need to a make a decision and live with it. Either we have a proactive police force that does aggressively seek out criminals and accept that this will sometimes lead to unfortunate but rare confrontations. Or have the police force that Ray Kelly joined in 1968, one that rides around in air conditioned and well-heated patrol cars for 8 hours and merely responds to and indifferently takes a report in the aftermath of violent crime. I’ll grant you summonses for bikes on sidewalks, beers on stoops and lack of dog licenses are embarrassing examples of dumb law enforcement. But you must also acknowledge the NYCLU has no real response to the gun violence in the inner city. The cops are not doing these things, the residents are. To continue to pretend that the biggest problem in such neighborhoods is the cops is putting your head deep in the sand. 

  7. If I deny a cop from frisking me, would I be arrested? Nazis Police Department? When did it become guilty until proven innocent? NOT IN MY AMERICA. FUCK THE POLICE (who abuse their powers)!!!

  8. Ok a little inside on the TSA airport procedures , you know those Random checks you could get by going through the checkpoint in any airport ? I’ll share a little secret , they are not random.  

    same thing with this stop and frisk policy. I say continue with it. I was never stopped by police… I wounder why?? Ohh yea that’s because I’m white!! lol 

  9. police do not determine on the spot if you guilty or not, judge does. Police job is to detain you and present evidence to DA’s office 

    I’m guessing you were never approached by a cop. they tell you… ” tell that to a judge on monday”

  10. Good article. Now when you talk about or constitutional rights being trampled on replace 4A with 2A and right another article.

  11. walking down a street is not evidence of anything… if a cop ever tried to search me for no reason, id never let him. if you give into the Nazis they will step on your face continually until you are dead. 

    Unless I am in the act of doing something illegal, they have NO right to search me.

  12. So what is your point? That racial profiling does not exist? Tell that to the guy on TV who claimed to be stopped by police for questionning on the average of once every 30 days. Are you stopped every 30 days by the police? Is that also anecdotal and unsubstantive?

  13. The mayoral statement is concerning NYC….Good for NYC.
    This is bang-bang shoot ’em up Brooklyn. I believe Southern Brooklyn is holding a record for violence.

  14. Yes, there is racial profile. So what. The Black community and hispanic community are the biggest nests for drugs/ ILLEGAL guns and CRIME in USA. wHO LIVES IN pROJECTS? WHITTES? NO. So. Do not ask about equality, if  you live in project, enjoying minimal rent, do not pay taxes, have medicaid, which you use for drug purchase, sell that drug for 25 dollars a pill. If you are not happy- call white house to Michelle.


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