FRISKING THE TRUTH: New York Post Hushes Up The Facts About NYPD Stop-And-Frisk Policies

››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

Over the past few months, the New York Post editorial page has defended the New York Police Department's controversial stop-and-frisk policy with myths and imbalanced coverage.

What Is Stop-And-Frisk?

New York Times: "Stop And Frisk" Is A Police Strategy To "Reduce Crime In An Area By Stopping And Searching People They Consider Suspicious." From the New York Times:

The term "stop and frisk'' is the shorthand for a police strategy in which officers seek to reduce crime in an area by stopping and searching people they consider suspicious. In New York City, the approach led to close to 700,000 stops in 2011 alone, and a rising debate.

Critics have argued that the police have unfairly targeted black and Hispanic young men, who have made up 85 percent of those stopped. The police department has strongly defended the tactic as helping to bring down crime, saying it is an effective way of getting illegal guns off the streets.

In May 2012, a federal judge said that the city's own records showed that many of the stops did not meet the constitutional standards for searchesThe law does not permit a search of pockets based simply on a police officer's hunch or performance quota; an officer may pat someone down if there is reason to believe that a person is carrying an illegal weapon. To conduct a search of the pockets, or to order someone to empty their pockets, requires yet a higher standard involving probable cause that a weapon is present. The judge found that officers often relied on vague grounds such as "furtive" movements. [New York Times Topic Page on "Stop and Frisk Policy," accessed 7/19/12, emphasis added]

NYPD Has Conducted Over Four Million Stops Since 2002 -- "Nearly Nine Out Of 10 Stopped-And-Frisked New Yorkers Have Been Completely Innocent." From the New York Civil Liberties Union:

An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 4 million times since 2002, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD's own reports: [...]

  • In the first three months of 2012, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 203,500 times
  • 181,457 were totally innocent (89 percent).
  • 108,097 were black (54 percent).
  • 69,043 were Latino (33 percent).
  • 18,387 were white (9 percent). [NYCLU.org, accessed 7/19/12]

The New York Post's One-Sided Approach To Stop-And-Frisk 

The New York Post Has Published 38 Op-Ed Pieces On Stop-And-Frisk Since April -- All Of Which Supported The Controversial Practice. According to a Media Matters analysis of coverage since April 11, 2012, when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced an investigation into the legality of NYPD policy. [LexisNexis, 4/11/12-7/30/12] 

  • METHODOLOGY: Results are based on a Nexis search for: "stop-and-frisk" OR "stop and question" OR "stop and frisk" since 4/11/12.

The New York Post Editorial Board Spreads A Litany Of Misinformation About Stop-And-Frisk

REALITY: Evidence Does Not Support Claims That  Stop-And-Frisk  Reduces Crime

NYCLU: "No Research Has Ever Proven The Effectiveness Of Stop-And-Frisk." From NYCLU.org:

No research has ever proven the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk, and the small number of arrests, summonses, and guns recovered demonstrates that the practice is ineffective. Crime data also do not support the claim that New York City is safer because of the practice. While violent crimes fell 29 percent in New York City from 2001 to 2010, other large cities experienced larger violent crime declines without relying on stop and frisk abuses: 59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas, and 37 percent in Baltimore.

Stop-and-Frisk abuses corrode trust between the police and communities, which makes everyone less safe.  Don't believe us?  Then listen to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly in 2000: "[A] large reservoir of good will was under construction when I left the Police Department in 1994.  It was called community policing.  But it was quickly abandoned for tough-sounding rhetoric and dubious stop-and-frisk tactics that sowed new seeds of community mistrust." [NYCLU.org, accessed 7/19/12, emphasis added]

Shootings In New York City "Have Remained Steady While The Number Of Stop-And-Frisks Skyrocketed." From New York Magazine:

When looking at gun violence in which people don't die, shootings have remained steady while the number of stop-and-frisks skyrocketed:

While the NYPD was stopping and frisking a record 685,724 people last year, 1,821 people were victims of gunfire, according to NYPD and city statistics. That's virtually the same number as in 2002, Bloomberg's first year in office, when 1,892 people were shot, but just 97,296 people were frisked. [...]

Between 2009 and 2011, the number of people shot in New York climbed from 1,727 to 1,821 even as the NYPD was ratcheting up the number of people it rousted from 510,742 in 2009 to the record 685,724, the statistics showed.

A similar pattern of rising shootings and escalating stop-and-frisks occurred from 2004 through 2006. During those years, the NYPD stop-and-frisks jumped 70 percent, from 313,523 to 506,491, but the number of shooting victims rose about 7 percent, from 1,777 to 1,880. 

[New York Magazine6/5/12]

  • NY Post MYTH: Stop-And-Frisk Would Deserve "Much Of The Credit" For Lowering Crime Rate In 2012. From the May 18 edition of the New York Post:

At a City Council hearing yesterday, [NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly] defended the program, and rightly so.

He noted that New York's murder rate this year has fallen to less than one a day. With luck, 2012 could wind up with the lowest rate on record -- and stop-and-frisk would deserve much of the credit. [NY Post, 5/18/12, via Nexis]

REALITY: Stop-And-Frisk Results In The Discovery Of Guns In Fewer Than One Percent Of Stops; Stop-And-Frisk As A Deterrent Runs Counter To Constitutional Law

NYCLU: "While The Number Of Stops Has Increased Enormously Since 2003...The Number Of Additional Weapons Being Recovered As A Result Of Those Additional Stops Is Tiny."  From NYCLU.org:

The NYPD has increasingly sought to justify the large number of stops on the grounds that the stop-and-frisk program is critically important to recovering guns. In making this claim, the Department has noted that in 2011 stop-and-frisk resulted in the recovery of 780 guns.The Department's citation to the 780 figure is significantly misleading, however, when used in attempt to justify the increase in stops during the Bloomberg administration. In truth, while the number of stops has increased enormously since 2003 (the earliest year for which a gun recovery figure is available), the number of additional weapons being recovered as a result of those additional stops is tiny, as shown in the following graphs [click to enlarge]:

[NYCLU Briefing, Stop-And-Frisk 2011, accessed 7/31/12]

Using  Stop-And-Frisk  As A Generalized Deterrence Strategy Runs Counter To Constitutional Law. From The Nation:

In theory stop-and-frisks, like arrests, are regulated by the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that police must have objective evidence providing "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity before they can forcibly stop a citizen, and they must have an independent basis for fearing the person is armed before they frisk him. That standard is lower than probable cause but more than a hunch: it requires objective, individualized suspicion--not racial stereotyping.

In practice, however, the vast majority of stop-and-frisks are never subjected to judicial review because most stops don't lead to arrests. Thus, these encounters are not "policed" by courts the way arrests are. And, not surprisingly, when police officers--like anyone else--know they are not being watched, they are likely to cut corners. [Columbia law professor Jeff Fagan] found that in nearly a third of all stops, police records revealed either that the stops were unconstitutional or that officers did not provide sufficient information to establish that they were legal.

In New York, it appears, the tactic has been employed not, as the Supreme Court originally conceived it, to disrupt ongoing criminal activity but as a generalized deterrence strategy. NYPD officers stop and frisk hundreds of thousands of citizens each year not because they believe all of them are engaged in criminal activity but because they believe the prospect of such stops will dissuade people from carrying weapons. (Stop-and-frisks in New York discover guns in only about one of every 666 stops--or 0.15 percent; police say that's because deterrence is working.) In short, it's an informal means of gun control. But as with many such tactics, black and Latino men bear most of the burden. [The Nation6/14/12, emphasis added]

  • NY Post MYTH:  Stop-And-Frisk  Slow-Down Is Responsible For Recent Spikes In Crime. From the July 9 edition of the New York Post:

How bad have things gotten?

Consider: As of Thursday, shootings for the year had ballooned to 712 from 641, according to early NYPD figures.

In the last seven days of that period, the city saw 68 shootings, up more than 50 percent over a year ago.

Then, on Friday and Saturday, 15 more shootings claimed four lives and wounded 19 others in a five-day run that left a total of 16 dead. In Queens, reports say gunmen used an AK-47 (an ominous twist, if true) to slay three men they'd followed for miles.

Sure, the recent high temps may help explain the hot tempers triggering the violence. But there's far more to it than that.

For starters, political pressure has made cops "collectively afraid" to stop and frisk suspects, one law-enforcement source said.

"People know that police are doing less stop-and-frisks," a police source said, "so more people carry guns."

That just stands to reason. [NY Post, 7/9/12, emphasis added]

  • NY Post MYTH: "Stop-And-Frisk Helped Get Guns Off The Street And Deter Crime." From the May 26 edition of the New York Post:

The New York Times this week urged Mayor Bloomberg to "learn from Philadelphia" and pare back the NYPD's successful stop-and-frisk policing tactic - but not even Philly's mayor thinks it's a good idea.

"I think they actually got some things wrong in their editorial," said Mayor Michael Nutter, who knows a thing or two about crime in his hometown.

In fact, Nutter - who is black - says he's been stopped by police numerous times in his life. But he still made the implementation of stop-and-frisk a focal point of his 2007 campaign.

And just like in New York, stop-and-frisk helped get guns off the street and deter crime. If anything, Philadelphia has been suffering since it was squeezed by courts and the ACLU to cut back on the practice. [NY Post, 5/26/12, emphasis added]

REALITY: Violence Has Been On The Decline In Most Cities -- A Trend That Preceded Stop-And-Frisk

New York's Sharpest Drop In Homicides Came "Before 2002, The Year Mr. Bloomberg Took Office." From Michael Powell at the New York Times:

The mayor's math is certainly inventive, as well as deeply ahistoric. He takes the high point for homicides, which hovered around 2,200 in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then he points to the number of homicides each year since he took office in 2002, which has hovered near 500, and claims 5,600 lives saved.

Where to begin?

The early 1990s represented a high-water mark for urban bloodshed. Boston, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Richmond, Washington: all became caldrons of violence.

The wave of homicides subsided most substantially in New York, but violence slid in most cities. Smart policing helped a lot. So did the waning of the crack epidemic, the decline of drug turf wars, and tens of thousands of citizens who refused to stay locked in their homes.

New York experienced its sharpest drop before 2002, the year Mr. Bloomberg took office. Since then, homicides have fallen about 11 percent, while stop-and-frisks increased sevenfold. [New York Times5/28/12, emphasis added]

Largest Murder Decline In NYC Occurred Before Stop-And-Frisk Ramped Up. From the NYCLU:

The murder drop happened before Bloomberg took office and before the explosion in stop-and-frisk.  The year before the mayor took office there were 649 murders in New York City.  In 2011, there were 526 murders.  This 19 percent drop is important, but to suggest that murders were cut in half because of stop-and-frisk is simply wrong.

If you compare New York to other large cities from 2001 to 2010, you find larger drops in annual murders- 50 percent in Los Angeles, 45 percent in Phoenix, 43 percent in DC, 38 percent in Dallas, and 35 percent in Chicago - even though New York City has the most aggressive stop-and-frisk policy. [NYCLU's Stop-and-Frisk Myth Busters, accessed 7/20/12]

Forbes: "Astronomical Increase In Stop-And-Frisks Came Well After The Significant Decrease In Number Of Murders, And Thus Cannot Be The Cause Of The Drop." From Naomi Robbins at Forbes.com:

Despite all the talk of declining crime and increased numbers of stop-and-frisks, are the two connected?  The short answer is no!  All of the graphs in today's post make it clear that the astronomical increase in stop-and-frisks came well after the significant decrease in number of murders, and thus cannot be the cause of the drop.

I present these different versions as a means to discuss choices and considerations when plotting two trends simultaneously.  To compare, the most straightforward method is simply to plot the number of murders and the number of stop-and-frisks, as I did in Figure 1. This clearly shows that the number of murders decreased sharply between 1990 and 1998 while the number of stop-and-frisks had a sharp increase beginning in 2002.  (Stop-and-frisk data are not available for years prior to 2002.)

[Forbes.com, 3/23/12, emphasis added]

  • NY Post MYTH: "Stop-And-Frisk Has Saved An Estimated 5,600 Lives." From the June 5 edition of the New York Post:

[I]t cannot be overstated that stop-and-frisk, though subject to occasional abuse, is an important crime-fighting tool.

As Bloomberg notes, stop-and-frisk has saved an estimated 5,600 lives - and taken thousands of illegal guns off the streets - in recent years. [NY Post, 6/5/12, via Nexis]

Posted In
Racial Justice, Justice & Civil Liberties, Crime
Stories/Interests
State Media, Racial Justice
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