Fordham Law


Mike's Math on the Line: Stop-and-Frisk Ruling Coming Soon and Stats Show Mayor Bloomberg is Wrong on his Race Comments

Ian Weinstein in New York Daily News, July 02, 2013

Media Source


The last roundup for the NYPD’s polarizing stop-and-frisk policy is coming — despite Mayor Bloomberg’s dire warnings that its demise could cost lives.

The NYPD anti-crime policy, framed as a battle between constitutional rights and last rites for New Yorkers, faces sweeping reform even as the mayor argues for its continued use.

The future of stop-and-frisk could hinge on Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin’s ruling on a class-action lawsuit — a decision that could come as early as this month.

Legal experts predict Scheindlin will likely appoint an independent monitor to oversee the nation’s largest police force if she finds the police procedure is unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs charge stop-and-frisk provides tacit approval for racial profiling of suspects, with blacks and Hispanics targeted far more often than white New Yorkers.

The mayor made headlines last week with his assertion that white New Yorkers were stopped too often by officers patrolling the five boroughs, and minority-group members weren’t stopped often enough.

But it’s right there in black and white: The mayoral math on stop-and-frisk doesn’t add up.

A Daily News analysis of NYPD data contradicts Bloomberg’s claim, by looking at all crime suspects versus just violent crime suspects — particularly in neighborhoods where blacks and Hispanics are in the population minority, but make up the majority of stops.

“I understand stop-and-frisk, but they take it to another level,” said Shamell Keaton, 16, of East New York, Brooklyn, who is black and claims police swore and pushed him around during a stop.

City Hall released statistics to support Bloomberg’s controversial claim about stop-and-frisk and race.

The NYPD numbers showed 6.9% of the violent crime suspects were white — although whites made up 9.7% of the total number of people stopped.

But The News’ review of NYPD data found police listed a “violent” offense as the suspected crime on little more than one-quarter of the 532,911 stops made last year — mostly for “robbery.” The rest listed “nonviolent” offenses like weapons possession, larceny, pot possession and criminal trespass.

When the lesser offenses are included, whites comprise 13.8% all crime suspects in the city — meaning they were stopped too infrequently.

The 109th Precinct in Queens — where whites and Asians constitute more than 80% of the population — produced the biggest discrepancy: 48% of local crime suspects were black, while 65% of those stopped were black or Hispanic.

The 17-percentage point difference was the largest of any precinct, followed by the 6th Precinct (Greenwich and West Village, 15.6); Midtown North (Hell’s Kitchen, 15), Central Park (14) and the 104th Precinct (Ridgewood, Queens, 13).

Only four of the 22 precincts with a difference of more than 5 percentage points were home to a majority of black or Hispanic residents.

Bloomberg spokesman Marc La Vorgna defended the mayor’s numbers, sticking to the “violent” suspect standard. And he blasted critics who charge cops rely on skin color to target suspects.

“Taking cops away from higher crime areas and sending them to the upper East Side so the stops match a census report isn't going to do much to suppress violence where needed," he said.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne scoffed at the complaints about the precinct that covers the Village.

“That’s the standard civil liberties complaint,” Browne said. “But the millionaires buying brownstones aren’t out there committing crimes. There’s a transient population that’s committing the crimes.”

While police proudly note the racial breakdown of stops aligns well with the racial breakdown of violent crime suspects citywide, cops were only searching for specific suspects in 16.5% of last year’s stops.

The rest were prompted by officers’ reactions to “furtive movements” or other suspicious behavior.

“Weapons possession” was the No. 1 suspected crime, listed nearly 130,000 times on stop-and-frisk paperwork known as 250s. Yet weapons were recovered in fewer than 6,500 of the stops in 2012.

Some precincts, despite thousands of stops, made very few arrests.

In the 70th Precinct in Flatbush, Brooklyn, about 95% of the 11,000 people stopped were not ticketed or arrested — the highest percentage of any precinct.

Only about one in 10 of the stop-and-frisks in the 70th Precinct where force was used resulted in an arrest or a summons, the data show.

In contrast, officers in the East Village’s 9th Precinct stopped less than half the number of suspects as the 70th Precinct’s cops did — but boasted the highest “success” rate in the city. Nearly 20% of those stopped were arrested or ticketed.

In searches where force was used, 9th Precinct officers made an arrest or issued a summons 57% of the time.

Critics blame the disparities on racial profiling.

“It can’t be an accident that it’s always in communities where there’s a larger white population where you see a far lower degree of the use of force,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Regardless of Scheindlin’s decision, the stop-and-frisk program faces — at best — an uncertain future.

The City Council passed two bills last week with a veto-proof majority — one appointing an inspector general for the NYPD, and another making it easier for people to sue for discrimination.

The mayor who replaces Bloomberg in City Hall in January is expected to make further policing reforms. Bloomberg’s support of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has remained unstinting.

“A lot is in motion,” said Ian Weinstein, a professor at Fordham Law School.

Stop-and-frisk stands at its heart. Backers, like Bloomberg, insist the program is responsible for the dramatic reduction in city murders.

But critics say the NYPD hasn’t effectively used the data to improve the way officers are protecting New Yorkers’ civil rights.

The NYPD has already lost one lawsuit over the practice, leading to a 2003 settlement requiring measures such as regular audits on stop-and-frisk data.

Those numbers show the hit-and-mostly-miss nature of stop-and-frisk.

Officers have made nearly 4.8 million stops over the past decade, and 88% of the time failed to turn up evidence of a crime.

They also used force in 776,319 stops without producing evidence of criminality, the New York Civil Liberties Union calculated.

Scheindlin is widely expected to rule against the NYPD after taking the cops to task for the “high error rate.”

“You reasonably suspect something and you’re wrong 90% of the time,” the judge said. “That’s a lot of misjudgment of suspicion.”

Legal experts predicted she’s likely to order reforms, including a federal monitor who would report to her on problems solely related to stop-and-frisk. She could then compel the NYPD to make changes.

An inspector general, on the other hand, would be appointed by the city administration and maintain oversight over all NYPD practices — in a strictly advisory capacity.

The second City Council bill — which the mayor could successfully veto if he can change just one vote — gives plaintiffs new powers in their lawsuits.

They could now sue the NYPD to make policy changes, including blocking officers from crimefighting tactics if the plaintiffs can argue they discriminate against certain groups.

The city calls the bill a prescription for disaster, saying it could force cops to discontinue successful strategies like targeting teen gangs through Operation Crew Cut.