NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy and Critical Race Theory

This week’s food for thought question involving the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program is an event where police officers stop and search individuals who are in a public setting. Police officers do not need a warrant on the grounds that they believe the person is involved in criminal activity. Shown in the video, from a post on the Sociological Images, police officers pull aside people who look “suspicious,” more than 1800 people are stopped per day and more than 87% of the people stopped were either Black or Latino. However, as described by anonymous police officers who work for the NYPD, police officers are forced to fill a quota and if they fall short they are subjected to disciplinary actions. Disciplinary actions shown in the video include being given unwanted assignments and being put along in dangerous neighbourhoods. The city mayor shown in the video describes the police as being pro-active even though the state has prohibited the use of arrest quotas. Police officers in the video feel forced into filling a quota and have no problem violating rights and using racial profiling because they feel pressed to do so.

The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program can be explained using the critical race theory by looking at the legal contexts and how this policy is enforced, therefore creating inequality. Firstly, the state of New York has prohibited the use of quotas in police work and yet police are still using this today.  The mayor and commissioner of the police department are promoting stop-and-frisk program as a way to prevent future crimes. Thus, police officers feel forced to meet a quota for their shifts and even infringe on the rights of an individual to meet said quotas. Critical theorists would tackle this issue by seeking the “deconstruction of legal rules and reconstruction of principles and policies from a critical race perspective” as suggested by Aylward (Pavlich, 2011). Furthermore, this can be done by looking at reasons for this policy, questioning the legal practice regarding race, and identifying any oppression (Pavlich, 2011). We would want to look at why this policy has been regarded as high importance to the NYPD and why they believe in using a quota as a measure of their effectiveness even though this is prohibited in New York. Even though no research has supported the effectiveness of the stop-and-frisk policy as shown in the NYCLU website, I question why the public is not doing more to end this racial profiling policy in New York.

Another way the critical race theory can help explain the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk- policy is by looking at how this policy is enforced and how this creates inequality. Police officers in “the hunted and the hated” video describe how they use racial profiling to find individuals to stop-and-frisk. An example given from the video shows a 17 year old that was stopped blocks before being stopped again and recorded his conversation to show police abusing their powers and provoking the individual. The 17 year old was searched and told he was pulled aside for giving the police officers a “look” while they were driving by. Another example to illustrate the racial profiling would be to look at the graph on the Sociological Images post on NYPD’s policy showing the percent of Black, Latino and Whites who were stopped. It amazes me that in 2012, 53% of Black people and 34% of Latino people had been stopped while only 9% of white people have been stopped. To gain more insight from the experiences of stop-and-frisk policy, one can simple apply the law and literature approaches by showing how “lived experiences expose the complexities of race and law” (Pavlich, 2011). This information would be helpful to examine others’ experiences with the police and if they feel racially profiled by the police.

My personal view on this topic is that the policy looks good on paper and seeing police officers on the street reinforces that police are doing their jobs, however, the racial profiling and the pressure in trying to meet a quota is wrong. I feel that if a police officer has ended his or her shift with few 220’s that individual should not be judged as not doing his or her job and should not have to look for or “hunt” people to fill their quotas. An issue brought up in today’s class discussion made me question if our local police are trying to fill a quota on how many tickets they give out during a shift.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press


Video Clip:



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One response to “NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy and Critical Race Theory

  1. Great post!

    Police stop-and-search policies have a long – and racialized – history.

    Regarding the intersection of critical race theory and policing practices, consider these cases:

    – The 1981 Brixton (England) riots, which were in large part attributable to a un uprising in response to the racialized application of the sus laws by British police: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/09/tottenham-2011-brixton-1981 (note the echoes of this event in the Tottenham riots of 2011).

    – The Toronto Star’s long-running investigative series on racial disparities in Toronto Police Service stops: http://www.thestar.com/specialsections/raceandcrime/article/761343–race-matters-blacks-documented-by-police-at-high-rate

    You note that “no research has supported the effectiveness of the stop-and-frisk policy “. This is correct, according to conventional measures of effectiveness. But critical theorists would challenge us to ask “who gets to define ‘effectiveness’, and according to what criteria?” The policy seems perfectly effective if your objective is to reinforce the perception of young black and hispanic males as de facto suspicious persons, and to govern them accordingly.

    You note that “My personal view on this topic is that the policy looks good on paper and seeing police officers on the street reinforces that police are doing their jobs”. Studies of community support for foot patrol consistently show that many groups strongly support increased police foot patrol, even when told that it has a negligible impact on crime rates. As you note, people like to see the police ‘walking the beat’. But I wonder about the first part of your assertion. What is it about the stop-and-frisk policy that looks good on paper?