Stop-and-Frisk: A decade after landmark ruling, concerns of its return grow

August 15, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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A decade has passed since the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) contentious stop-and-frisk policy was deemed unconstitutional. While it once symbolized New York policing during Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s reign and peaked under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly, District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled on Aug. 12, 2013, that the tactic, as employed, was “racially discriminatory,” targeting predominantly Black and Hispanic men.

Now, a decade later, retired Judge Scheindlin has voiced concerns that this tactic is resurfacing. Scheindlin, now associated with the Stroock & Stroock & Lavan law firm, recently appeared on “All Things Considered” hosted by Tiffany Hanssen to discuss her groundbreaking ruling and the implications today.

Asked about the backdrop of the ruling, Scheindlin mentioned that the NYPD had registered around 660,000 stops in its highest year. In her perspective, most of these stops were unwarranted as they didn’t result in any evidence of crimes. An alarming 88% of these stops led to nothing, with the rest often culminating in minor offenses. She highlighted, “It was just an intrusion into people’s freedom to walk about without being harassed by police.”

A significant part of her decision hinged on the evident racial profiling. The trial disclosed that Black and Hispanic individuals were disproportionately targeted, vastly exceeding their representation in New York’s population. The tactic was underpinned by deep-seated stereotypes and biases within the department, with high-ranking officials attributing crime largely to young Black males.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Contrary to concerns that the ruling might spike crime rates, the opposite transpired. The number of stops nosedived from 600,000 to a mere 10,000, yet crime rates remained stable. This undermined the effectiveness of the stop-and-frisk policy and further illuminated the divisive impact it had on communities and their relationship with the police.

Despite the efforts to curtail unconstitutional stops, racial disparities persist. Even today, the majority of those stopped are overwhelmingly Black or Latino. Scheindlin said, “The monitorship is still in effect. The current monitor wrote a report to the court saying she was troubled.” She pointed out that there has been a gradual rise in stops recently, and the racial disproportionality remains an issue.

Interestingly, Eric Adams, a retired NYPD captain who once testified against the policy as a state senator, is now the mayor. Under his leadership, stop-and-frisk has made a subtle comeback as part of his crime-fighting strategies.

This shift in stance has drawn criticism, with Scheindlin expressing her disappointment in this development. In her words, “I think he’s making a mistake to think suddenly that the policy that has been discredited is suddenly going to help the city of New York and the citizens of New York.”

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unwarranted searches and seizures, typically necessitating a warrant supported by probable cause. The stop-and-frisk policy, used by some police departments, including the NYPD prior to Scheindlin’s ruling, allows officers to stop and search individuals based on mere suspicions rather than solid evidence.

If based on broad profiles, like race, this policy can be seen as a breach of the Fourth Amendment. Implementing stop-and-frisk without valid reasons compromises citizens’ constitutional rights, weakens community trust in the police, can be perceived as racial profiling, might result in needless detentions due to misunderstandings, and can psychologically harm individuals, especially if they’re frequently stopped without valid cause.

Hence the ruling that for effective public safety measures, it’s crucial that law enforcement respects constitutional boundaries and the dignity of all citizens.

Attributing the drop in crime in NYC solely to the stop-and-frisk policy is oversimplified and potentially misleading. Studies often don’t show a direct link between the policy and significant crime reduction. Crime rates are influenced by various factors, not just one policy.

Even after the reduction in stop-and-frisk usage in New York City, studies show that crime rates continued to decline. Many stops didn’t lead to arrests or find contraband, questioning its effectiveness. Many other U.S. cities without aggressive stop-and-frisk policies saw crime drops during the same time period.


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