Maybe it’s due to fewer officers on the street, or perhaps the city of New York is feeling pressure now that it is the subject of a civil lawsuit in federal court. But, whatever the motivation, it’s surely good news that stop-and-frisks are down for the first quarter of 2013.
According to the Wall Street Journal, stop-and-frisks dropped to 99,788 through March 31, down from 203,500 during the same period last year.
Stop-and-frisk tactics are used by officers in a sort of fish-in-barrel approach. They find something, any minute reason, to stop a citizen and search them. Typically, these are rookie cops used under the Operation Impact program in particularly high crime areas. The fact that someone is in a high crime area paired with, for instance, heavy coat on a warm day (which could suggest a weapon or someone with a chill) could make a citizen a target of the questionably constitutional search practice.
So, whatever the cause, the fact that there are about 50% less so far this year is a positive thing.
“Staffing and other factors, including training have had a bearing on the number of stops,” said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. “But the bottom line is that the total number of stops in any given quarter reflects what the police officers on duty during that quarter observed.”
In other words, according to the NYPD, it’s not a conscious effort to decrease stop-and-frisk tactics that is driving the decline.
What is interesting, however, is that during the same time that stop-and-frisks fell, so did crime in the Big Apple. So far in 2013, crime overall is down 2.7% while murders are down 30%. While the decrease in crime likely isn’t caused by a decrease in stop-and-frisks, the facts certainly suggest that stop-and-frisks don’t necessarily reduce crime—an argument purported by the NYPD at any given chance.
The civil lawsuit against the NYPD alleges the stop-and-frisk tactics focus too much on racial minorities. In 2002, for instance 85% of those stopped were either black or Latino. And 90% of those stopped were released without arrest or criminal charge. In other words, they were stopped, detained and searched for no good reason.
“I think it’s significant to note that while stop and frisk numbers have gone down, crime has also gone down,” says Donna Lieberman of the ACLU. “It’s important that we ensure that we get to a point as a city where the prospect of being stopped for doing nothing wrong is an aberration not the expected course of events in your life if you are a person of color.”