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Ending New York’s Stop-and-Frisk Did Not Increase Crime

New York City police ended their stop-and-frisk policy two years ago. Dire predictions about increased crime were wrong.

  • James Cullen
April 11, 2016

Cross-posted on Bill­Moy­

Despite what many may claim, the United States is not in the midst of a nation­wide crime wave. In fact, the aver­age Amer­ican can still enjoy some of the safest times on record. This is espe­cially true in our largest city, New York, which also used to be one of our most danger­ous. Given that history, it’s not surpris­ing that New York­ers care­fully watch for any sign of an increase in crime, even while our city tops the list of safe large cities.

Most recently, journ­al­ists poin­ted to an increase in murder as renewed cause for concern in the Big Apple. Comment­at­ors are saying the uptick is only the begin­ning, in part because the city has wound down its contro­ver­sial “stop-and-frisk” program, in which police stopped and searched citizens, allegedly without cause.

With stop-and-frisk now several years past, it’s an oppor­tune time to eval­u­ate that claim. The program’s end, it turns out, did not herald the start of a new city­wide crime wave.

Stop-and-frisk became a cent­ral issue in the 2013 mayoral race because of a concern that the program uncon­sti­tu­tion­ally targeted communit­ies of color. The program’s support­ers disputed this, insist­ing that stop-and-frisk was essen­tial for fight­ing crime in such a huge city.

Bill de Blasio, who won that 2013 mayoral elec­tion, campaigned on a prom­ise to end stop-and-frisk. But, the courts nearly beat him to it. In August 2013, federal district court judge Shira Scheind­lin found that stop-and-frisk had become a “policy of indir­ect racial profil­ing” and that the police had searched inno­cent people without any object­ive reason to suspect them of wrong­do­ing. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Raymond Kelly, the city’s police commis­sioner at the time, cham­pioned the program as a crit­ical compon­ent of redu­cing murders and major crimes to historic lows. Bloomberg even sought to appeal Judge Scheind­lin’s order, winning a tempor­ary reprieve from the appeals court, and vowed to continue stop-and-frisk through the remain­ing four months of his term. “I would­n’t want to be respons­ible for a lot of people dying,” Bloomberg said at the time.

The stop-and-frisk era form­ally drew to a close in Janu­ary 2014, when newly-elec­ted Mayor de Blasio settled the litig­a­tion and ended the program.

In the years lead­ing up to the program’s offi­cial end, stops had already begun to plum­met, lead­ing article after article to claim that a jump in crime was just around the corner. All of the hard work of previ­ous mayors and police chiefs could be undone, some said.

This alarm turned out to be both prema­ture and incor­rect, and data from the history of the program indic­ates this should­n’t be much of a surprise.

After grow­ing slowly in the early 2000s, stop-and-frisk began to rapidly increase in 2006, when there were 500,000 stops city­wide. By 2011 the number peaked at 685,000. It then began to fall, first to 533,000 stops in 2012.

Given this large scale effort, one might expect crime gener­ally, and murder specific­ally, to increase as stops tapered off between 2012 and 2014. Instead, as shown in Figure 1, the number of murders fell while the number of stops declined. Murder also contin­ued to drop after as stop-and-frisk wound down from its 2011 peak. In fact, the biggest fall in murder rates occurred precisely when the number of stops also fell by a large amount — in 2013.

Figure 1: Stops vs. Homicides in NYC (2006–2015)

Source: NYCLU Stop-and-Frisk data and NYC CompStat (2006–2015). 

Figure 2 shows that crime in general also fell, both while the number of stops increased and fell. Crime contin­ued to decline as the program wound to its 2014 close.

Figure 2: Stops vs. Crime in NYC (2006–2015)

Source: NYCLU Stop-and-Frisk data and NYC Compstat. 

Stat­ist­ic­ally, no rela­tion­ship between stop-and-frisk and crime seems appar­ent. New York remains safer than it was 5, 10, or 25 years ago. As analysis by the Bren­nan Center has shown, a part of this was the intro­duc­tion of CompStat, which allowed police to consult data when making decisions about where and how to respond to crime.

Listen­ing to the data has made New York­ers safer, and it’s import­ant to listen again. It says loud and clear: ending stop-and-frisk didn’t cause a crime wave in the city.