Stop-and-frisk is a policy in which police officers are allowed to stop and search a pedestrian without hard evidence that the person is breaking the law. In this policing method, all an officer needs is his or her own belief that the search is reasonable. This policy gained backing from the Supreme Court in the Terry v. Ohio decision in which the Court ruled that officers were allowed to stop and frisk with less than probable cause. The stop-and-frisk program eventually made its way into New York City, especially during Rudy Giulani’s two terms as mayor from 1994-2001. It was around this time period that crime, specifically violent crime, was decreasing drastically in NYC. As a result, a correlation is often drawn between lower crime rates and increased stop-and-frisks. This connection, however, is factually inaccurate. Stop-and-frisks did not actually decrease the crime rate or have any positive impact at all on New York City. In fact, the stop-and-frisk program was unconstitutional and only led to negatives, such as racial discrimination in law enforcement as well as decreased trust between the community and its police officers.
Criminal justice reform is always one of the most highly debated topics in politics. President Donald Trump made it clear when he was campaigning that he believes a revamping of the stop-and-frisk method is the answer to the crime problem in our inner cities. “I would do stop-and-frisk,” Trump said. “I think you have to. We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well, and you have to be proactive, and you know, you really help people sort of change their mind automatically.” Trump’s stance on a revival of the stop-and-frisk program makes it necessary for us to look back and answer the question of whether this method actually worked.
Rudy Giuliani’s 1993 mayoral campaign was based on the idea that New York City was headed down a dangerous path and required extensive changes in the means used to keep the city safe. Giuliani convinced New Yorkers that the place they called home had become “a deteriorating city”. The purpose of this campaign strategy was to prepare people for the aggressive crime control practices that Giuliani would institute when elected, including the extreme use of stop-and-frisk. In reality, though, crime was already falling before Giuliani took office. FBI research shows that violent crime in New York City started falling in 1989 and continued its decline after Giuliani came into office. In fact, New York City had gone from having about 1,000 violent crimes per 100,000 residents to less than 500 crimes before the stop-and-frisk program was even put in place. Therefore, any success that Giuliani’s crime-fighting policies experienced was just the continuation of a trend that had already been occurring at a steady rate.
During the first presidential debate of the 2016 election, Trump raved about the success of stop-and-frisk in New York City. “But stop-and-frisk had a tremendous impact of the safety of New York City,” he said. “Tremendous beyond belief. So when you say it had no impact, it really did. It had a very, very big impact.” However, the statistics about stop-and-frisk will show that the method was ineffective. During the time which Trump said stop-and-frisk was most efficient, “about 90% of the people who were stopped were young black or Latino men who had committed no crime whatsoever”. The effectiveness of stop-and-frisk did not even improve over the years. In 2014, when the method was being used at a much lower rate than when first implemented, still 82% of those stopped and frisked were innocent. Statistically, stop-and-frisk had a very low success rate in stopping crime from occurring.
One of the clearest and most impactful results of the stop-and-frisk program was the increase of racial discrimination in law enforcement. The tactics necessary for the implementation of this crime-stopping method “meant that racial disparities in policing were inevitable”. Although African Americans make up only 22.6% of New York City’s population, they were the subjects of 54.6% of all stop and frisks. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who presided over the federal case that determined whether the policy was unconstitutional, called it a “policy of indirect racial profiling”. In a city that is so racially diverse, the creation and institution of a program that is so discriminatory in nature is sure to have a negative effect on communities. As recently as 2015, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 22,939 times, and 18,353 (80%) of those stopped were innocent. 54% of those stopped were black, 27% were Latino, and 11% were white. The change in public opinion toward stop-and-frisk is clear. In 1993, Rudy Giuliani based his crime-stopping policy on aggressive policing methods, and he won the election. On the other hand, in 2013, Bill de Blasio made it clear in his mayoral campaign that he would severely decrease stop-and-frisk in policing. De Blasio came out victorious. The drastic decrease in popularity of this policing method is obvious and is a direct result of how it recurrently victimizes and targets minorities.
It is inevitable that a policing process that targets minorities so severely will damage the relationship between minority communities and law enforcement. A recent Gallup poll displayed the strong effects that discriminatory policies have had on public trust in police officers. In the three-year period from 2014-2016, Gallup asked Americans if they had “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in police”. While 58% of white people agreed with this statement, only 29% of black people said yes. This is a stark contrast and is definitely one of the results of methods like stop-and-frisk that have repeatedly targeted minorities, even when such a high percentage of them are found to be committing no crime at all. In addition, The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs and Research did a similar nationwide study in which they asked people if they believe that police abuse is a problem in the United States. Nearly three-quarters of African Americans that were questioned responded in the affirmative. In the same study, half of African Americans said they have been mistreated by police because of their race and this has shaped their views of law enforcement.
When politicians like Donald Trump praise the effectiveness and success of a program such as stop-and-frisk, they often do not take into account these problems. When a policy has had such a negative effect on the relationship between minority communities and police officers, it becomes clear that it is not a viable solution. Trump has stated that he thinks stop-and-frisk would be a possible resolution to the urban crime epidemic in Chicago. However, the Chicago Alliance for Neighborhood Safety surveyed about 1,000 high school students and found that 84% “reported either being treated disrespectfully by police or seeing others treated disrespectfully”. A policy that would only increase the gap of trust between citizens and officers is not the answer, and has never been the answer, to inner-city crime.
The constitutionality of stop-and-frisk was eventually called into question and proved to bring about the downfall of the program. “The policy necessary to achieve these deterrence goals cannot be reconciled with longstanding and deeply rooted interpretations of basic constitutional rights,” said Jeffrey Bellin in his study of the relationship between stop-and-frisk.