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by Peter Moskos

February 3, 2014

Too *few* stop, question, and frisks? Perhaps...

Bill Bratton was just quoted in the Post saying that the NYPD is conducting too few stop and frisks.

Who would have thought that the shameful practice of mass stop, question, and frisk would ever end? Actually, I did (though I was two years too quick to predict its gradual demise). I knew there was internal pressure from up high in the NYPD to reduce quota-based stops. But nobody I know, certainly not me, expected the stops to completely stop! For that, we can thank not just the stop and frisk lawsuit but the absurd over-reaction of the PBA.

We're down to 3,000 stops a month. That's 36,000 stops a year. Back when the NYPD conducted almost 700,000 stops a year (in 2011), I said that most of these stops were quota (er, "productivity") driven, not needed, and bad police work.

More recently I wrote:
We now know that all these stops were not needed. Throw out that bathwater! But be careful, because there is baby somewhere in that murky water. Surely some of these stop are needed. You know, the stops based on officers' reasonable and honest suspicion.
We need to ensure we don't let "stop and frisk" give a bad name to good police officers using discretion legally stopping (and questioning, and sometimes frisking) suspects.

So is there a "right" number of stop, question, and frisk? I hate to quantify individual acts of police discretion (doing so is what got us into the stop and frisk mess). Bratton pointed out that stops should be "based on what officers are seeing and what they are reacting to. There is no number that you want to project toward." But on a city-wide macro level, I think it's fair to expect a certain number of proactive stops conducted by the NYPD en masse.

Based on my intuition (and the "hit rate" for white people stopped, I suspected that an 80 percent reduction in stops would have no adverse effects (and much positive impact on police morale and police/community relations. Cut stops 80 percent and what's left, the remaining 20 percent, might actually serve an essential crime prevention purpose.

An 80 percent reduction from the peak would have been about 11,000 stops a month. (Put another way, this is less than one stop per month per patrol officer. Of course that number is just an intuitive guess. Perhaps the ideal number of stops is half or twice that.) But no matter how you look it, 3,000 stops per month is to low. To paraphrase a politically incorrect sign in the police station in which I used to work, "Unlike the citizens you police, you are required to work for your government check." Police officers (and the PBA) would be wise to remember that.


DB said...

I will admit that I am not up on the entire "stop and frisk" controversy. I do have to ask a simple question without becoming enveloped in this overly politicized frenzy. It's my pretty educated understanding that the stop phase is based on A. consent, B. reasonable suspicion and C. probable cause = If none of these exist - the police really can't stop you. Secondly, I understand that a certain amount of articulatable facts need to be present to conduct a pat search... so without going into much detail am I to understand the the NYPD's stop and frisk program was in violation of the 4th amendment?
Regardless, I don't think you can put numbers on whether a police officer exercises discretion to do his job or not. 1 stop a month is ridiculous in regards to a police officer actually doing there job. Are you seriously trying to insinuate that a even remotely decent officer with his eyes open won't see reasonable cause to stop someone during an entire shift? A week? Two weeks? I want my cops out there stopping people - I want them doing it right, but I want them doing it. Just my two cents....

PCM said...

It is all slightly absurd. It is not too much to ask police to do their job. But yes, to make a long story short, many NYPD were stopping people without legit reasonable suspicion (and this in violation of the 4th amendment) in order to meet what they, the officers, felt was quota pressure (and quotas are illegal, for what it's worth). To the tune of 55,000 stops a month.

It is indeed hard to imagine that an officer couldn't find a suspicious person to stop at least once a week...

And one important clarification: there is no such thing as "reasonable cause." There is "reasonable suspicion" for a stop or frisk and "probable cause" for a search or arrest.

Probable cause is a high legal standard than reasonable suspicion. So if you have probable cause, you by definition have have reasonable suspicion.

To conduct a "pat search" (better known as a "Terry Frisk," to not confuse it with a "search"), a reasonable officer needs to have reasonable suspicion that a subject might be armed.