About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

May 12, 2010

New York Black and Latinos Frisked 9 Times as Often as Whites

Ninety percent of those stopped by the NYPD are black and latino. So says the New York Times. Is this a cause for concern? I don't know. Something certainly bothers me when my male black and hispanic students complain of being stopped by the police often (and often rudely stopped).

But there is one touchy and politically incorrect fact that seems remiss not to mention: nine-in-ten murderers in New York are black or hispanic (just seven percent are white) [here's a previous post].

Police go where the violent crime is. And if you work in a neighborhood were the robbers and murderers are black or hispanic, you stop black or hispanic people.

Given the raw data, the racial disparity doesn't seem to be the problem. But what do I know? I don't get frisked. I'm white and live in a safe neighborhood.

The questions we should be discussing is whether or not aggressive stop-and-frisks are an effective crime prevention strategy. I like the idea that criminals are leaving their guns at home rather than risk being stopped, frisked, and arrested by the NYPD. Is that a result of stop-and-frisks? I don't know. Do the crime prevention benefits outweigh the negative community interactions with innocent people? 575,000 stops yielded 762 guns. That doesn't seem like a great hit rate to me.

If frisks are done because officers really have reasonable suspicion that a suspect is armed, go for it. But if officers are simply trying to meet "productivity goals" (read: quotas), something is very wrong.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

The police are correct in their suspicions 0.13% of the time. How could their suspicions possible be considered "reasonable"?

If the Harlem Globetrotters are playing the Washington Generals would it ever be "reasonable" to "suspect" that the Generals were going to win?

"Reasonable suspicion" is a joke. What is the practical difference between the current system and just saying that police could frisk whoever they wanted?

DAP said...

Anon, your analysis is bunk. You didn't read the article.

You missed: "the stops led to 34,000 arrests and the seizing of more than 6,000 weapons other than guns".

That means one out of 17 s&f's lead to an arrest. That's nothing to sneeze at. Compare that number to other cities and you'd be surprised at the results. Good job NYPD.

The comparison in the article to the weapons turn-in campaign is worthless. Those dredge up WW2 and Korean war weapons in closets and under beds. They're not being carried on the street. We did a weapons surrender and quite a few were brought in by widows in their 70's.

Also Peter you say: "black and hispanic students complain of being stopped often police (and often rudely stopped)."

Something is missing here. Maybe "by the" between often and police?

Anonymous said...

Umm, weapons other than guns are generally legal to carry and conceal, so the weapons other than guns doesn't mean anything. Red herring.

Also, terry frisks are not supposed to be done to find evidence of a crime. That is not the reason that RS stops and pats are (supposedly) Constitutionally justified. If the police are using these stops to find evidence of crime far, far more often than they are finding guns then that is powerful evidence that the policemen are misapplying Terry v. Ohio, and, in so doing, routinely violating 4A of the US Constitution. Using RS "frisks" as a search for contraband is worse than a red herring, but rather an abuse under the (supposedly) operative legal standards.

Anonymous said...

O, yeah, and:

the non-gun weapons category is probably heavily "cooked." When no arrest is being made, it is really easy for the policeman to write down that the subject had a swiss army knife or a blunt object and check the "weapons found" box on the form. I have heard policemen describe cars as weapons ("a 2 ton missile"), and if we believe that then it is not even a lie to check the "weapons found" box in a lot of cases. Policemen may not all be geniuses, but they are samrt enough to know: (i) checking the "weapoins found" box makes for "better" stats; and (ii) there is virtually no chance that any lie or misleading designation would be caught in cases where no arrest is made.

PCM said...

Type/correction made.

There are other weapons found (like knives). They are not legal (unless non-spring activated and smaller than 3 inches). But even if other weapons were added to the hit rate, it would still be a very percentage.

The other factor is just because nothing is found does not mean the frisks are not justified.

Take five drug dealers hanging out on the corner. One certainly has access to a gun. You frisk all five. You may find no gun. You may find one gun.

Even if you find one gun, by the stats, four of the people are "innocent." But those were five good frisks.

I frisked a lot of people as a cop. I found zero guns in my frisks. And yet I think every one of those frisks was legal and justified (I would think that, wouldn't I?).

Most frisks will not find weapons but that does not mean I didn't have reasonable suspicion to think the person might be armed.

I think the difference is that I was not under much pressure to produce "stats." The the BPD did not encouraging aggressive stop and frisks as a strategy. [and I don't know if this is reason why, but it's worth mentioning that the murder rate is perhaps 6 or 7 times higher in Baltimore than NYC.]

Anonymous said...

I've heard that the main academic and political opponents against NYC's stop and frisk practices have a small city an hour north of the city in mind as a model urban living:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/12/nyregion/12newburgh.html

The folks there, who are almost all minority, have no complaints about their police force, and enjoy a bucolic life at the foot of the Hudson River.

I expect the exodus to this paradise to being shortly.

PCM said...

You think the problems of Newburgh have been created because the police weren't doing anything and would be solved if only the police frisked more people? That's precious.

I'm not quite certain how it's at all relevant to the issues of stop and frisks and crime and arrests in NYC.

Anonymous said...

If the Newburgh police frisked people at the rate that the NYPD did, I suspect it would help to reduce crime. I wonder what they actually do, but it's clear that people feel very comfortable carrying weapons on the street there.

To be clearer, if you took half an an NYPD precinct and transplanted it into Newbugh, practices and all, I think it would make a substantial difference in the crime rate of that horrible city.

Anonymous said...

In Terry v. Ohio the power to stop (or detain) is justified by the idea that police are supposed to be allowed to ferret out crime.

In Terry v. Ohio the power to frisk is not based on the need to ferret out crime, but rather the need for officers to be safe while they do the stop.

Here is the part I never understood:

Don't the frisks make things more, rather than less, dangerous for police?

I mean if you have a group of suspicious characters, isn't one of them more likely to pull out a gun and shoot the officers when they start frisking than if the officers did not frisk at all?

It seems like there would be many reasons that dangerous suspects would shoot or stab precisely because a frisk was occurring or about to occur. Maybe the suspects would worry that the frisk would go beyond a search only for weapons and would start shooting for that reason. Maybe one of the suspects would see the frisk as "feeling up" his girlfriend. Maybe a suspect would shoot over the indignity of a "legitimate" frisk. maybe one of the suspects would see the frisk as a prelude to planting felony quantities of contraband. There are all kinds of reasons why a frisk might cause a shooting or stabbing that would not have occurred absent the frisk.

given this, why did the Terry V. Ohio think that the frisk would decrease risk instead of increasing risk?

PCM said...

You know, and somewhat to my surprise... I find those very good questions.

At times I used Terry to protect myself. At times I used Terry as a tool to frisk people. Arguably in doing so I did put myself at greater risk in frisking some suspects. But I saw that as part of my job.

It is a constitutional power the Supreme Court gave police. So I used it.

Anonymous said...

Terry excerpt:

"We need not develop at length in this case, however, the limitations which the Fourth Amendment places upon a protective seizure and search for weapons. These limitations will have to be developed in the concrete factual circumstances of individual cases. . . . Suffice it to note that such a search, unlike a search without a warrant incident to a lawful arrest, is not justified by any need to prevent the disappearance or destruction of evidence of crime. . . . [b][i]The sole justification of the search in the present situation is the protection of the police officer and others nearby[/i][/b] . . ."

Accordingly, [i]Terry[/i] does not grant an automatic power to frisk upon reasonable suspicion. Rather, it gives a power to frisk only in situations where the police officer really believed that the frisk makes things safer. If you did not really believe that on some of your frisks, then those frisks were not properly justified under Terry. If the policeman believes that his RS frisk is making things more dangerous, then he is violating 4A. If a policeman says that he believes a frisk makes things safer, but deep down knows that the frisk is increasing the danger, then he is guilty of simple dishonesty, which is also bad.

Full text of Terry:

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=392&invol=1

Anonymous said...

Also worth reading (or re-reding)is the companion case to Terry called Sibron:

http://supreme.justia.com/us/392/40/case.html

Moneyquote:

"People v. Rivera, 14 N.Y.2d 441, 446, 201 N.E.2d 32, 35, 252 N.Y.S.2d 458, 463 (1964), cert. denied, 37 U.S. 978 (1965). But the application of this reasoning to the facts of this case proves too much. The police officer is not entitled to seize and search every person whom he sees on the street or of whom he makes inquiries. Before he places a hand on the person of a citizen in search of anything, he must have constitutionally adequate, reasonable grounds for doing so. In the case of the self-protective search for weapons, he must be able to point to particular facts from which he reasonably inferred that the individual was armed and dangerous."

RS frisks are for officer safety. Not pretextual officer safety. Real, actual, true officer safety concerns. When the frisks cease to be about that, they are no longer supported by the exception to the warrant requirement judicially created by Terry and limited by Sibron.

Anonymous said...

I always thought this was fairly obvious.

Any person who exhibits behavior that suggests he is armed with a weapon is a risk to an officer. The only issue is wether he is a risk at that moment, as he is being frisked, or he is a risk later on, when the officer is responding to a crime in which the weapon is instrumental or any any event a means to faciliate escape.

In the former case, the officer is in control of the encounter and can act decisively. In the latter case, responding to the crime in progress, the criminal is in control of the encounter, innocent citizens are more likely to be involved, and the situation is altogether more dangerous.

People who may be carrying weapons and who inculcate reasonable suspicion on the part of an officer need to be frisked right then and there, for his own safety.

The logic by other commentators is confounding. It seems to suggest that the officer in Terry, after developing reasonable suspicion about a robbery that might occur, would have been safer interceding in the robbery in progress than frisking at the scene.

People who limit their perspective on officer safety only to the frisk at hand are taking an unfeasibly narrow view. By this accout, officers should avoid all contact with potential criminals. For their safety.

Johnny Law said...

"Don't the frisks make things more, rather than less, dangerous for police?

I mean if you have a group of suspicious characters, isn't one of them more likely to pull out a gun and shoot the officers when they start frisking than if the officers did not frisk at all?"

The most dangerous time in a subject encounter is usually when you are about to put your hands on a suspect to frisk or handcuff. This is when the bad guy has that flash of panic and has to decide to either run, fight, or submit. We know this and are trained on how to do it as safely as possible.

Your question seems to imply you think the police shouldn't frisk because it is too dangerous. Well we have an obligation to do our job despite the dangers. If we had your mindset, we would never get out of our cars.

Anonymous said...

Your question seems to imply you think the police shouldn't frisk because it is too dangerous. Well we have an obligation to do our job despite the dangers. If we had your mindset, we would never get out of our cars.

You are misunderstanding the law here, as I think many policemen do. Policemen were given the right to RS frisk upon the understanding that giving them this power would increase their safety. The power of frisking was definitely not given to policemen to help them find meth or to help them clear corners of undesirables.

If it turned out that the power to frisk was making things less safe for policemen, then presumably SCOTUS would take it back as an ill-advised exception to 4A.

I urge you to read Terry and Sinbron (linked above).

Anonymous said...

another racial profiling case;

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/12/us/12houston.html?src=mv

1. Times forgot to mention the police officers highly improbable excuse for supposedly thinking the vehicle was stolen.

2. Times also neglected to mention why Tolan started to get up and swore at the popo before getting shot.

Johnny Law said...

"You are misunderstanding the law here, as I think many policemen do. Policemen were given the right to RS frisk upon the understanding that giving them this power would increase their safety. The power of frisking was definitely not given to policemen to help them find meth or to help them clear corners of undesirables."

I understand that Terry frisk just fine. You made mention about how a frisk was dangerous and I replied.

I agree that a Terry frisk shouldnt be used as an evidence gathering tool. It is for officer safety only. I'm surprised these "stop and frisk" stops don't get thrown out. However if officers are routinely stopping folks for PC violations such as loitering or open container, then officers are justified in conducting a frisk of that subject for safety purposes. I think that is probably why these stops are not getting dismissed.

IrishPirate said...

Everyone's favorite atheist conservative has her take on the story.

http://www.city-journal.org/2010/eon0514hm.html

I don't always agree with Heather MacDonald, but I do always read what she has to say.