NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk hits new record

February 14, 2012 5:10:34 PM PST
New York City police made a record 684,330 street stops last year, and 87 percent of those targeted were either black or Hispanic under a policy that has been vilified by civil rights groups as unfair but lauded as an essential crime-fighting tool by department officials.

The tally is a 14 percent increase over 2010 - and it's more than the population of Denver. Of those stopped, about 12 percent were arrested or received summonses.

In the decade since Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been in office, the number has risen from about 97,000 in 2002 to the current figure. It's a total of 4.3 million stops.

Civil rights advocates claim the practice unfairly targets innocent blacks and other minorities, and that many stops are made without proper cause. At a press conference Tuesday, leaders called on the mayor and police commissioner to acknowledge there is a problem with the policy at the nation's largest police department.

"It's not a crime to walk down the street in New York City," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Yet every day innocent black and brown New Yorkers are turned into suspects for doing just that."

Blacks and Hispanics make up about 53 percent of the 8.1 million people in New York.

The practice is legal. A 1968 Supreme Court decision established the benchmark of "reasonable suspicion" - a standard that is lower than the "probable cause" needed to justify an arrest.

Chief Department spokesman Paul Browne said there were 413,573 arrests last year and an additional 400,000 summonses, which are based on the higher probable cause standard.

In stopping, questioning and frisking, police records indicate that officers are drawn to suspicious behavior: furtive movements, actions that indicate someone may be serving as a lookout, anything that suggests a drug deal, or a person carrying burglary tools such as a slim jim or pry bar.

"Stops save lives," Browne said. "Over the past 10 years, there were 5,430 murders in New York City, compared to 11,058 in the decade before Mayor Bloomberg took office. That's a remarkable achievement - 5,628 lives saved - attributable to proactive policing strategies that included stops."

The nation's largest police department had about 23 million contacts with the public last year, he said. Of the stops, a total of 8,263 weapons were recovered, including 5,872 knives and 819 guns, Browne said. He also added that blacks made up 53 percent of those stopped and were 66 percent of violent crime suspects last year, and Hispanics were 34 percent of those stopped and 26 percent of violent crime suspects.

But some activists said Tuesday the practice was racist - and if whites were stopped at the same rate, police would likely find a reason to charge them, too, they say.

City Council member Jumaane Williams, who was handcuffed and detained this fall by police at the city's annual West Indian Day parade and has since become a vocal critic of the department, said his minority constituents are telling him they don't feel safe around police. And it's wrong for the mayor and other city officials to say the policy doesn't cause problems, he said.

"There is no one who cares more about black and Latino communities than the black and Latino communities," he said.

Joseph Midgley, a volunteer with Picture the Homeless, an advocacy group, and who himself is homeless, said he's been stopped four times and each time he had to turn out his pockets. He was never ticketed or charged with a crime.

"Are we living in a police state?" he asked.

There are about 36,000 officers at the nation's largest department. The population of Denver is about 600,000.

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