On the heels of a recent string of criticisms of racial and religious profiling by the New York Police Department, a Quinnipiac University poll released last week reported that a majority of New Yorkers approve of the way the police are doing their job. However, only 46 percent approve of the controversial policing tactic stop-and-frisk. The racial breakdown of reactions to this policy is striking: 59 percent of white voters approve, while only 43 percent of Hispanic voters and 27 percent of black voters support stop-and-frisk.
The results of a January 2011 study called “Understanding Stop & Frisk” shed a more nuanced light on minority communities’ reactions to the policy. The Global Strategy Group conducted the study amongst adult residents of the six neighborhoods with the highest frequency of stops, in Brooklyn, East Harlem and Queens. Participants were chosen to include the most highly impacted demographics: African Americans and Latinos. Focus groups included participants who reported they had never been the target of a stop-and-frisk.
The strongest supporters of the policy — African American and Latino seniors — almost universally agreed that it can be a violation of civil rights, yet still supported it. And the most adamant objectors — African American and Latino men — expressed outrage at the policy, yet were not fully committed to ending it altogether. A majority of participants recognized crime as a major problem in their neighborhood, but agreed that stop-and-frisk doesn’t reduce crime or improve quality of life enough to justify its tendency towards racially-based harassment that ruins community relationships with the police.
“There are so many [officers] who have had no experience with our community. Somebody must have told them, ‘You have to be aggressive instead of coming to [these people] in a proper way.’ Some of them come and speak to us like animals,” said one African American woman.
Stop-and-frisk has had an overwhelmingly disparate impact on blacks and Hispanics, who represented 87 percent of those stopped last year. It is unclear what positive effect, if any, the practice has had on improving public safety outcomes. Close to 90 percent of stops in 2011 resulted in no arrest or summons whatsoever. Criminologist Frank Zimring, who has written very favorably about most of the crime-fighting tactics the NYPD has used in the last two decades, finds no evidence to support the use of stop-and-frisk.
“The New York City Police Department is one of the most aggressive police departments we’ve ever seen. And the big question…is, does getting aggressive, does making 600,000 stops add value to these techniques? And the answer is a great big we don’t know.”
The Brennan Center supports efforts to improve police-community relations in ways that allow minority communities to be both safe and free. Non-aggressive community policing, and increased foot patrols with properly trained and supported officers, should be part of coordinated strategies to improve a community’s health. Such programs would achieve the results all New Yorkers seek, and that we all deserve. The NYPD must identify fairer and more intelligent practices than stop-and-frisk, because a growing chorus of politicians, advocates and citizens demands it.