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New York’s stop-and-frisk and the illusion of law by statistics

New York’s stop-and-frisk and the illusion of law by statistics

How many crime victims must be sacrificed at the alter of fuzzy math?

There’s been a new ruling curtailing New York’s controversial police practice of stop-and-frisk:

In a blistering decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, found that on hundreds of thousands of occasions since 2004, the police have systematically stopped innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. She further found that the Police Department had “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling” that targeted young minority men for stops.

Judge Scheindlin has “called for a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms” of the practice.

Stop and Frisk

If there really were a huge number of instances in which the NYPD stopped people merely because they were black or Hispanic and in the wrong place at the wrong time, rather than actually being prompted by the proper standard of “reasonable suspicion,” it seems clear that the practice would need stricter guidelines. But were there?

Here’s an example of the sort of statistical wrangling on which the charges of racial bias are based:

…[N]umbers [released by the mayor’s office] showed that 87% of the people stopped under stop-and-frisk in 2012 were black or Latino, and that 9% were white. That same year, more than 90% of those identified as murder suspects were blacks or Latino; just 7% were white.

Critics of stop-and-frisk charge that such numbers are irrelevant. They charge that cops indiscriminately go after young black and Hispanic men on bogus grounds, and that nearly nine out of ten people who are stopped are innocent.

That last fact—that most people stopped are innocent—was also cited by the judge in her ruling.

But law by statistics is a dangerous game.

Of course most people stopped are innocent, but this does not tell us why they were stopped and whether those reasons constituted “reasonable suspicion” or not, which are the important issues. It merely tells us that stop-and-frisk is a highly imperfect instrument for locating criminals.

Nor does it tell us what the relationship of New York’s stop-and-frisk has been to the decline in crime experienced by that city. Is it causative, or is the drop merely another instance of a more general drop in crime during the same period that has occurred even in jurisdictions that don’t practice the sort of tactics employed by the NYPD?

It will be “interesting” to see what happens to the crime rate in the city if New York’s stop-and-frisk is dramatically cut back as a result of this ruling. Because make no mistake about it—there is a good chance of some very serious negative consequences if stop-and-frisk is watered down:

Even compared with other cities where crime has also declined, New York has experienced dramatic changes. Since 2002, major crimes across the country have declined fourteen per cent; in New York, they have declined thirty-four per cent. The contrast is even more striking between New York and other big cities. If New York had Detroit’s murder rate last year, there would have been forty-five hundred murders in the city–more than ten times the actual number.

One thing is pretty certain: just as this ruling affects mostly black and Hispanic male residents of New York, who are mostly the ones being stopped and frisked, so the crime rate mostly affects the black and Hispanic population of New York, because those groups are enormously over-represented not only as perpetrators but as victims of crime.

To get more details about the legal reasoning behind the Judge Scheindlin’s decision, read the 165-page text. But this article on Scheindlin and New York’s stop-and-frisk, which appeared in The New Yorker last May, contains some troubling information.

The following is only a small sample:

“What I really like to do is write opinions,” the Judge [Scheindlin] said. “There you get to do what you think is right, what you believe in. You’re pushing the margins of the envelope, being willing to be creative.”…

As one of her former law clerks put it, “What you have to remember about the Judge is that she thinks cops lie.”

According to a study prepared by the Mayor’s office, Scheindlin suppresses evidence on the basis of illegal police searches far more than any of her colleagues–twice as often as the second-place judge. This may mean that Scheindlin is uniquely courageous–or that she is uniquely biased against cops…

Whether Scheindlin herself is biased or neutral on this subject, the proper legal question is whether the NYPD actually is just stopping and frisking willy nilly (or based merely on race and nothing else) in high-crime areas without “reasonable suspicion.” If so, the practice needs to be stopped and/or revamped. But let’s hope that doesn’t lead to New York coming more and more to resemble Detroit.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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Even the name is wrong.

The policy is “Stop. Talk. And frisk.”

Everybody leaves out the “talk” part, except the cops on the street.

    I R A Darth Aggie in reply to Ragspierre. | August 13, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Remember that the next time TSA wants to pull you over and have a chat on the side of the road.

    Me? “No, thanks, my lawyer isn’t here so I’m not talking to you. Am I being detained? am I under arrest? no? then I’ll be on my way.”

    Should work on both NYPD and TSA…

      Spiny Norman in reply to I R A Darth Aggie. | August 13, 2013 at 11:27 am

      Try it. Then you really will be detained… and miss your flight… and probably have talk with the local police, if not the FBI.

      Ragspierre in reply to I R A Darth Aggie. | August 13, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      I agree.

      A nice invitation to have a chat with a police officer who at that point cannot articulate any cause to detain and interrogate you is one ANYBODY can politely decline.

      When they DO NOT, there is no problem with the LEO continuing.

With the mindset that the country is amidst a cold civil war, I find no interest whatsoever in what NY or NYC does.
There is no joy in them getting slapped down by a judge.
They are a lost cause ( in my lifetime am 52 ) anyway.
My heart is cold to the cesspool they have created for themselves, let them splash in it.
Neo your the shrink, is this healthy or not? It seems to me that there are only so many battles one can fight.
Time what there is, is better spent elsewhere with
higher hopes.

    Have you spoken to any New Yorkers? Having grown up in the real New York City (not Manhattan) I can tell you that the change is remarkable. You can actually walk the streets at night, without worry! I don’t know that there are many American cities where this is true within the city limits.

    This is why they put up with Bloomie’s idiocies.

Hire a group of actors as ‘young minority men’ and have them mill about the outside of Scheindlin’s residence. Record Scheindlin’s response a la James O’Keefe.

What scares me the most about this is the author of this article. What will be given up in the name of safety, of security. Are New Yorker’s views of humanity so depraved that they think that this law is a good idea? Are people in New York so insane that they think that they have the right to control everything that anyone other than themselves does? Do people in New York live in such a Feudal society that they don’t see that others with money and political connections don’t follow the rules like the little people? Are New Yorker’s so cynical that they no longer believe people are innocent until PROVEN guilty?

Police States indeed do produce low crime numbers, because what police chief wants to be the one that presides over a rising crime rate. Said police chief can do any number of things to doctor the numbers or just go on a get anyone on anything jihad, that will only swell the numbers in jail or swell the coffers of the Police State. This doesn’t even include the crimes that will be produced by the police themselves who no longer even have to follow the rules. And I won’t even get into the corruption that such a system breeds. If you want to trade safety for liberty .. you deserve neither.

Stop and Frisk is patently sickening law, no defense can be given for it. If you believe that it helps alleviate crime then you deserve to live in the Police State of New York.

‘We don’t know that stop and frisk works, but, things are going to get bad because it has worked til now.’


It could very well be that NYC doesn’t have Chicago’s or Detroit’s murder rate BECAUSE NYC DOESN’T HAVE AS MANY MURDERERS. Many places don’t, and don’t have 4.4 million warrantless searches of pedestrians, and still don’t have Detroit’s murder rate.

I’m not shy about supporting airport security, and I’m scratching my head as to why this is supposedly lawful police behavior. If the crooks aren’t THERE to catch, then you won’t catch them. You could stop and search. You could do preventative booking and releases. You could impose a curfew, and you’d still see “the benefits” of violating the 4th Amendment rights of nonoffenders, in terms of a better than average offense rate.

    Aggie95 in reply to TheYell. | August 12, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    in 1992 New York City led the nation with close to 2,300 murders in 1 year last year it was around 600 … in 1993 Rudy took office and every year after that crime and murder fell

    mzk in reply to TheYell. | August 13, 2013 at 3:00 am

    If you’d grown up there, you would understand what a change this is, thanks to Bloomie keeping Rudy’s policies (not just stop-and-frisk). This is why people put up with his idiocies.

    By contrast, in Baltimore we hired one of the people who made the change in NYC. He was stopped by Baltimore’s pro-criminal City Council.


9 out of ten are innocent, so that’s why the judge said the procedure was wrong.

so, out of 100,000 airline passengers, how many are terrorists carrying weapons/bombs? by the judge’s logic, TSA shouldn’t be allowed to operate in airports anymore.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to sultanp. | August 12, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Sounds reasonable – except that walking around is a fundamental right, and flying is more akin to a privilege that can be conditioned on TSA clearance, no matter apparently how small the relationship between the screening and safety. Result is heightened scrutiny for stop and frisk, and rational basis analysis for TSA screenings, or maybe even worse.

      fellonblackdays in reply to Bruce Hayden. | August 13, 2013 at 10:30 am

      @Bruce Hayden: How is flying a privilege? I get what you’re trying to say, but we should be free to travel, including all modes of transportation. Just because they didn’t have airplanes in the 18th century doesn’t mean our rights should be limited today.

      For me, it’s the same concept as being able to own a semi automatic firearm, or being secure not only in my papers, but my “electronic papers” like email.

        Bruce Hayden in reply to fellonblackdays. | August 13, 2013 at 3:58 pm

        Theoretically, I probably agree. But, I think that maybe the argument is that when you travel by commercial aircraft (or probably even train or bus), you potentially endanger everyone else on the plane (train or bus) by any act of terrorism. If you bring a gun or bomb aboard, you are potentially endangering the lives of hundreds of others on the plane. Still, that would seemingly justify state police power to implement security and prevent those armed from participating, but not federal power to do so.

        Still, the reality is that today the reality is that you don’t really have to fly, but if you do, you pretty much have to be screened by TSA first.

It depends on what “reasonable suspicion” means and how it was implemented. Without that information, the statistics don’t mean much.

For those of you who want a bit more understand of just what this is all about you need to read this woman Heather Mac Donald…read the article and watch the video… read the reat of her stuff she knows what she is talking about

Rudy is the guy who started the decline in crime in the city …they figure that somewhere between 20 – 30,000 mostly minority lives have been saved by Rudy’s policies and them being continued ….in 1992 there were 2300 murders in NYC last year I think a bit less than 600. According to the numbers minorities are committing about 97 – 98 % of the gun crimes in the City …whites about 2 – 3 % although they are 35 % of the population

Is this Judge Scheindlin related to the famous one? Maybe she should follow in Judge Judy’s footsteps and leave jurisprudence for the bright lights.

Henry Hawkins | August 12, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Regardless of the legal technicalities, if the local po-po tried that shit here in Possum Holler NC, they’d get strung up, lol.

Put Bloomberg and this judge in a ring, and let them fight to the death.

So the ruling is the the NYPD cannot stop & frisk without reasonable suspicion, due to constituional protection?

So how is it that we have this to look forward to?…
“TSA pat-downs soon coming to your travel route”

Just because 9 of 10 stopped and frisked have no incriminating evidence on them does NOT make them “innocent” by any stretch of imagination.

Maybe John Dillinger never went out without a weapon, but John Gotti did, and he was no more “innocent.”

If they are going to use the procedure mostly in high crime areas, then the people it is used on will be residents of those areas, in which case they will reflect the ethnic composition of those areas. So it makes sense that they will mostly be Black and Hispanic.

On the other hand, I recall a colleague of mine at work (different city) tell me how he would get picked up all of the time (not just by white cops). And his Dad was a top police official!

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“Stop and Frisk” or as pointed out above, “Stop talk and Frisk” is a important part of dealing with street crime. It is a decision a city must make. Does the streets, the open air areas of the city, belong to the people or to the criminals. In Chicago, the city has ceded the streets to the thugs, and many have died because of it.

Criminals by nature avoid going to jail. You can’t make money in jail. Thus, if they know when they are on the streets and carrying dope or guns, they can get stopped, frisked and arrested and sent to jail, they tend to do one or two things. 1. Don’t go on the street if they have either (A win for the people wanting to stop the street corner spontaneous shootouts). Stay inside to do their criminal activities- which is another win/win. Because they are off the streets…

When I was in our anti-gang unit we had them trained to the point they could actually recite the rules, as they were being searched. I said to one who was complaining “now what is the rule?” He said, “I know, no guns no drugs. And as long as we are in a gang we can expect to be stopped and searched.”


It is difficult to tell if RAS exists in a Terry stop, unless an arrest is made and the basis for the stop becomes an issue in court. In the case of the NYPD, they implemented a a procedure, the UF-250 form, whereby their officers could document the RAS for any stop. These forms were used to shoot the department in the foot. The “standards” listed on the form were so vague as to be meaningless and many provided no real information as to the basis for the stop.

Added to that were the statistics of search, incident to stop, and arrest and summons issuance. When 88% of the stops fail to produce any action, it suggests that this practice is being abused. When weapons are found in only 1.5% of the frisks, it suggests that such frisks are being made routinely without the benefit of RAS [especially when they are being made in 52% of the stops].And, when searches, based upon feeling “suspicious” bulges [which occurred in only 8% of the stops], results in finding weapons 9% of the time [1.5% of the total stops] and contraband 14% of the time [1.8% of the total stops] one has to question how accurate the basis for the stops and the frisks were to begin with. Once again, the documentation provided by the UF-250 forms was woefully inadequate for this purpose.

In any rational appraisal of the Stop, talk and frisk policy of the NYPD, it leads one to believe that it was being used, not as an enforcement tool, but as one of intimidation. It may have reduced street crime. Then again it may not have. But, it is clearly contrary to the established standards for Terry stops as decided by the courts. It has to be remembered that these were not enforcement stops, where a violation of law was observed.

Henry Hawkins | August 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm

A certain number of police officers are corrupt. Do I get to stop, talk, and frisk all police officers to find one?

But it works, Henry!

Hey, you know what else would work? Mandatory death penalty for all crimes. Period. So, do you still believe effectiveness is the only criterion for good policy?

What disturbs me is that I’ve heard that NYC cops have an unofficial but still very real quota of how many people they’re supposed to make contact with every day, so if you’re standing on a sidewalk, you’re loitering and thus suspicious; if you’re walking too fast, that’s suspicious; if you’re walking too slow, that’s suspicious.

If they actually had real suspicions for everyone they did stop/talk/frisk then that’s one thing, but if they’re just needing to get their numbers up, that’s a Bad Thing.

More crime is committed in black areas of NYC. By necessity, you patrol more in higher crime areas. Most of the people you stop in a black area of town will be black. Is that racial profiling? I don’t think so.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to randian. | August 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    If the stops were just being done on a basis that was racial non-representative only at the city level,, and not at the precinct, block, etc. basis, then I would agree. The problem though, I would think, is that the stops are not racially presentative in other parts of the city. Thus, in a portion of the city that was, say, 70% white and 10% Black, you would likely find more than 10% black stops, and fewer than 70% white stops.

    Still, the thing that bothers me about this is that the percentage of violent criminals by race throughout the city is roughly equal to the racial makeup of the stops, on a citywide basis. Young black males are being heavily profiled because they are the one committing a large percentage of the violent crimes, and, thus, are more likely to actually be violent criminals. And,, this is probably also true if the criteria for being stopped is looking like a young male hoodlum. I keep thinking back to Treyvon Martin who was seen as suspicious because he was dressed as a hoodlum and was acting suspiciously, and most likely not because of his race (which wasn’t apparently initially apparent), but turned out to be Black, and, thus, it was assumed by many that he was racially profiled (instead of being profiled as looking and acting like a hoodlum or potential criminal).

      randian in reply to Bruce Hayden. | August 13, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      In a 10% black area far more than 10% of crimes will have black perpetrators. Moreover, while it’s true that blacks are being stopped at rates greater than their population percentage, blacks are actually being stopped at rates less than their “criminal” percentage. For example, if 80% of crimes are committed by blacks, they’re only 70% of those being stopped. Those are not the actual numbers, but you get the point.

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